Retirement Income

Joanita Wibowo

Financial abuse: The important warning signs

Financial abuse: The important warning signs

Domestic and family abuse has been a longstanding issue in Australia, with most attention going towards physical and sexual violence. However, abuse may also take subtler yet equally damaging forms. One example is financial abuse, which is expected to affect 16 per cent of Australian women in their lifetime.

Financial abuse can happen throughout the relationship or following a separation, and the severity may lead the affected person to go without food or permanent shelter.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse or economic abuse is when a person – be it a partner, parent, child, other family member, carer or a friend – uses money or other financial-related things such as property and jobs to hurt, intimidate or control you.

According to the Family Law Act, financial abuse is included under the definition of family violence. Behaviours that may constitute abuse under this legislation include withholding support for a dependent family member or denying financial autonomy.

What are the signs of financial abuse?

You may be in a financially abusive relationship if the other person:

  • Controls your access to bank accounts, pay, or other money that is yours;
  • Forces, pressures or guilts you to give money to them or someone else;
  • Takes, sells or threatens to sell your property without your permission;
  • Takes out a loan under your name without your consent;
  • Forces or pressures you to sign documents such as credit applications, mortgages and more;
  • Insists that you pay for things you don’t want or need;
  • Forbids you from working;
  • Prevents you from working by restricting access to transport, phone, internet or more;
  • Refuses to pay for the things you need, such as food, medicine, rent and more.

According to MoneySmart, older people may be more at risk of financial abuse due to their increasing dependence on family members or carers. You may be experiencing elder financial abuse if someone:

  • Forces you to change your will;
  • Pressures you to appoint them as your enduring power of attorney;
  • Forges your signature or credentials on documents;
  • Does not pay your bill when they have been designated to do this for you;
  • Withholds or restricts access to your letters and bills;
  • Isolates you from family and friends to get you to do what they want.

Financial abuse often comes with other forms of abuse, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

What to do

Ending a financially abusive relationship can be difficult, as victims are often stripped of the resources needed to leave. Seeking help and support is an important step to regaining financial independence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, you can contact the 24-hour support line 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for more information on support and services that can help your situation.

If you need urgent help with finances and living expenses, you can contact the Department of Social Services on 1300 653 227 to be connected to a local emergency relief service.

If you are concerned about debt and/or want to find a financial counsellor, you can contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

You can also look up local support services in your state or territory.