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Domestic abuse: access to cash can mean life or death

For some women who experience domestic abuse, having access to cash can be a matter of life or death. Our guest, Refuge’s Lisa King, explains how and why.

This is a guest post by Lisa King. All views expressed are Lisa’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

A staggering one in every four women will experience abuse at some time in their lives; and a shocking two women are killed every week in England and Wales alone by a current or former partner.

Domestic violence takes lives and ruins lives.

Most of us only recognise abuse as broken bones and black eyes. But put plainly if you change your behaviour because you are scared of your partner’s reaction, then you are experiencing abuse. 

Domestic abuse is all about power and control; perpetrators use many tactics to maintain control over their victims.

Denying access to cash

Economic abuse is a very common way to control another person and can take many different guises; but a common controlling tactic is to deny a woman access to cash.

Many women will be prevented from accessing family money, or even prevented from accessing their own money and instead they may be given a strict weekly allowance, controlled by the perpetrator.  

When this happens, many women will cut back on buying some of their essentials and will, over a period of time, try to put aside small amounts of cash to create an escape fund.

Access to cash can literally mean the difference between being trapped with a perpetrator of domestic violence, isolated and living in fear – and having the ability to escape and seek refuge.

Women who need to access cash will often need to do so at very short notice – needing to maximise a short window of opportunity to flee the violent partner and will need ATMs, post office options and banks to be readily and plentifully available in all locations, both rural and city. 

Staying safe

Cash is also ‘invisible’, so if you’re a woman escaping a violent partner and you’ve moved to a new location you may choose to pay cash to prevent your location being detected through ATM details on online banking pages/postal statements. Using cash can help women stay undetected – and safe.

Bad debt is another key reason for women needing access to cash. Some women are not eligible for bank accounts or credit cards due to debt that has been taken out in their name by the perpetrator – often without their knowing – which gives them a poor credit rating. 

Access to cash for women in these circumstances is utterly essential. 

Accessing cash is critical, but so is being able to use cash. The current climate is moving to a cashless system and this is a real problem for survivors of domestic abuse.

In many parts of the UK, you cannot pay for a bus ride now using cash – if a woman only has access to cash, and not a card, how can she escape? 

Few people realise that domestic abuse is the biggest issue affecting woman and children in this country today.

Cash for many women who experience domestic abuse is literally a matter of life or death. Let’s work together to ensure all women have access to cash no matter where they live in the country – this could save a life.

If you have been affected by this or would like more information, visit the Refuge website or call our freephone 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

This was a guest post by Lisa King. All views expressed were Lisa’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.


I am lucky never to have suffered domestic abuse or witnessed/heard of it in my family, and I’m also lucky to be financially independent. If one of the measures of civilisation is how women are treated (it is a matter of record that women suffer domestic abuse much more often than men), we can’t argue that Britain is totally civilised. (But then again, is any country?)

Thank you for this brave post, Lisa and Which?. It encourages me even more to help Which? campaign against the total disappearance of cash, free ATMs, and bank branches.

RitA Evans says:
14 August 2019

No I haven’t either,

Many people have never had easy access to cash, whether in the suburbs or in the countryside – no nearby ATM, no bank and no post office. Yet there are many local business that handle cash and, with a suitable scheme, could be encouraged to dispense it. I’ve suggested it for some time, the Access to Cash report suggests it. So we could take the blinkers off ATMs, branches and post offices and work to a much more inclusive scheme.

As far as I can see the vast majority of ATMs being lost are those close to others, rather than where no other ATM exists, or where a post office is available. I hope in future we will see complete information provided on closures rather than numbers designed to mislead.

A couple of questions on the introduction.
In many parts of the UK, you cannot pay for a bus ride now using cash “. I’d like to the basis for this claim – I couldn’t find any on-line information on this other than tfl’s.
“Some women are not eligible for bank accounts or credit cards …….Access to cash for women in these circumstances is utterly essential. “. As far as I know, without a bank account you cannot get a card to access an ATM, so I’m not sure how access to cash can be provided.

Now, I’m back to double line spacing 🙁

I’ve recently found local buses, car parking spaces and access to public venues (local authority) to be increasingly card payment only. I’m in the north of England. Re your puzzlement re ATM/card holders – women can be an additional card holder on their partners account without having the clear financial record needed to hold an account in their own name.

Cecilia, thanks for that. I would then expect women to hold card but, presumably, be likely to be removed by their partner.

A controlling partner may monitor account usage by checking statements. Having no access to money is a common experience for women in a domestic abuse situation where their partner is controlling.

Christopher Lewis says:
14 August 2019

As a man I am very embarrassed about what these men do to these women, they are cowards, I think the saying an eye for an eye comes to mind …[edited].
There is a poem by Max Ehrmann called Desiderata which has words which may help some of these ladies, I found when I was very depressed that it helped me, anything worth a try.

[Note: this comment has been edited to remove potential offensive speech. Please make sure your comments adhere to the Community Guidelines]

I give my heartfelt sympathy to the victims of mental/physical abuse. I would think that they are conditioned over a long period to have feelings of guilt so that they become totally submissive to their vindictive oppressor and escape would seem very risky. Their pain is hard to imagine.
Sam bravely took the risk to escape with her children for, if she had been discovered doing so, she may well have been killed (currently, high numbers of partners are violently ‘disposed of’ each year). Her ‘pot of readies’ most certainly helped her plans enormously.
But, I also wonder what had happened in the past for an intelligent person to become twisted and cruel with little compassion for anyone but themselves.
We need to ask how can we help children grow up to be decent and caring adults?

Barry, I think you’re asking some good questions there. As regards mental abuse, I think I’ve seen plenty of evidence for that being inflicted on males by females, but I’ve not seen so much evidence for males suffering physical abuse at the hands of so-called partners.

There is, of course, a concern that abuse by women is not reported, for obvious reasons.

It does seem to happen to a substantial extent to all sexes https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/domestic-abuse-bill-parliament-criticism-theresa-may-women-men-violence-a9007151.html although women are the majority victims.

I would strongly advise any man or woman who is suffering abuse to report it to the Police. My niece is a police officer she told me that huge changes have been implemented all officers are highly trained on how to deal with all forms of abuse. But they can’t help anyone if they don’t report the abuse. I know it’s scary and for some embarrassing. I can assure them that they will be treated with dignity and respect. Those who report abuse will not be forced to make any changes that they are not ready to make. So please take that first step report abuse.

Jane Smith says:
15 August 2019

Children…it’s important to love them completely so they feel it at their core. A lot of dom. abuse happens by people who’ve not felt that as children, particularly their mothers.
Though, of course, there’s no accounting for mental illness or addictions, also a major cause for dom. abuse.

It breaks my heart knowing that there are people, of all genders, in these situations who don’t feel comfortable to report it. There are a number of charity helplines available for people to call for help, some specialing in gender and sexuality. I’ll list them below. Please remember though, where possible, if you or you think someone else is in immediate danger then please dial 999.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247 (available 24/7), run in partnership by Refuge and Women’s Aid. Visit http://www.refuge.org.uk for more information and support.

Citizens Advice: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/gender-violence/domestic-violence-and-abuse/

Men’s Advice Line, for men experiencing domestic abuse: 0808 801 0327 Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0300 999 5428 or 0800 999 5428
Monday, Tuesday and Friday 10am to 5pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10am to 8pm
Tuesday 1pm to 5pm is Trans-specific

Well said! Great that you have also supplied useful information and links to people and groups that can help those victims of abuse. Thank you.

So should TfL reintroduce cash payments for bus fares, in order to help combat domestic abuse?

You can use cash to buy an Oyster Card at many places across London. That seems a good way of avoiding the problems handling cash on buses.

I don’t know why a fair question should be given the (despised by some) thumb down. I’ve reversed it. I do wish people would add a comment when they disagree with someone.

I am a man and have never abused anyone but I find it a sad reflection on England that the Police are on heightened alert for domestic abuse during the World Cup for example (poor lamb; did your team lose? Diddums). Cash must not be allowed to be restricted. I don’t give my grandchildren a cheque on their birthday or to Scouts when they clean my car. I prefer to give a cash tip where tips are appropriate rather than adding a gratuity to a bill. That way there’s (a little) more chance that it goes where it’s intended to go. I don’t like to use a card for small sums either. It just gives banks more profit and, since businesses, large or small, are charged it has to be absorbed in pricing. Putting loose change (or even notes) in charity collections would also take a hit.

caroline atherton says:
14 August 2019

we all have a right to choose how we spend our own money.
these new ways of banking is just another way to keep tabs on us
Keep my cash in my pocket

I suffered abuse for many years, escaped with my Daughter to the refuge Friday 13th January 1989 will never forget the sanctuary I felt, stayed there for 8 months, I
was 41 my Daughter was 15, owe them a debt I could never repay. Thank you Betty Davis and Margaret for all your assistance and kindness xxxx

Hi Val, thanks for sharing with us. I am so pleased to hear that you and your daughter were able to successfully get out of an abusive situation. I know that 1989 probably seems a lifetime ago but there’s no denying that these situations can leave an effect on you. Please do reach out to Refuge if you or your daughter need any further help, they have some amazing services. https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-work/our-services/

I hope you’re both doing well 🙂

James says:
19 August 2019

Wow, great story, thanks for sharing.

This throws up some general points about new developments in what’s being called “surveillance capitalism” as well as existing problems about anti-social behaviour by banks, privatised and commercialised public transport, and probably private-sector letting agents etc, before we get on to well-established problems in coercive domestic relationships between sexual partners, with or without children.

A big range of topics, but worth keeping these in mind in all the various discussions about moving to a cashless society, cost-saving by paying travel fares by contactless cards, and arrangements for opening new bank accounts, accessing existing accounts face-to-face through branches, and credit referencing and payments for rent and rental deposits. I’m not sure how good banks or letting agents are at giving new accounts or lets to individual women without a permanent address, and hope that charities such as women’s refuges are in a position to provide credit references and advocacy for such women, as well as temporary accommodation.

More generally, because we have de-regulated bus services and privatised railways, every company involved in this is likely to have their own rules on payments, including contactless payment, payment cards etc. I’d hope a duty of care could be laid on these various utilities to provide a standard alternative to cash payments, if they do withdraw cash services as a way of reducing costs and improving security of their staff. This alternative should include some kind of nationally-valid payment card which can be topped up with cash, in the absence of access to bank debit cards controlled or under surveillance by a coercive partner.

I’d suggest we need a universal service obligation to provide alternative and private methods of payment where access to cash is withdrawn, whether the access is withdrawn by closing ATMs and bank branches, or withdrawing cash payment on local and long-distance buses and trains. Top-up credit cards might provide a way of paying deposits and rent to letting agents, though people who are the subject of a coercive relationship may not have these cards until they contact a refuge charity; and letting agents and banks might not want to accept these cards because of the limitations in top-up credit cards re contact addresses, future credit limits and advance payment restraints, etc.

As to the long-established problems in coercive relationships, with or without children, I’d suggest all we can do is to improve awareness of the various manifestations of this problem, from school onwards, and to improve availability of support resources, across the UK. It would be worth continuing to look at how these things are organised in other better-run countries in Europe. We should enforce non-discriminatory behaviour by banks, transport utilities and letting agents, to include equal access to cash, payment and other services, by people and their dependants who are moving out of coercive relationships, or preparing to do so.

I’ve been lucky enough not to have been involved in such a coercive relationship, but have known others who have, and have heard enough over the years, of similar cases where both women and men have been victims in heterosexual relationships, and where individuals in same-sex relationships have also been victims. Where there are children living in these relationships, they can also be victims in various ways. We can’t dismiss these people’s problems. We should encourage cautious behaviour by adults through education and information, before abusive relationships become established.

I hate any form of bullying or abuse though the world will not change overnight and I see perfectly well, the need for access to cash for victims of this and many other scenarios, ie homelessness, abandonement etc.The banks must respond with some sympathy to those in such desperate circumstances, show the public that they really have a thought for the public in general and not use the “customer care” logo as a sales pitch.

Hi DJ, there are so many people who are potentially being left without access to cash – it’s quite scary. It really is so important to make sure that nobody is being left behind.

mike alexander says:
15 August 2019

This is an area where a Government department should have taken an interest years ago. Accessing cash in these circumstances should not be more difficult that calling in to your local benefit office. After all don’t the same offices keep plenty of able bodied folk on benefits with no questions as to their work ethic! A reduction in benefits of say 2.5% would go a long way to making a ‘help’ scheme self supporting.

Mike, I calculate there are around 650 benefits offices open 9-5 Monday to Friday. There are 48500 free to use ATMs open around the clock, 11500 post offices dispensing cash.

Jane Smith says:
15 August 2019

I’ve been there. What you have to do is plan your leaving so tightly, even if it takes 2 years, just keep putting cash away somewhere. You have to be one step ahead of him. Usually the men are focused solely on what they want and what you’re doing/not doing. But they can also be quite dim and because they’re obsessed, distracted. There’s a lot a woman can do if she takes back the power into her, inside her, and doesn’t show that to him. Cash is absolutely vital, as are friends/family. You can’t do it relying on the state…they are useless. The cops can’t even help you in cases of emotional/mental abuse. Even if he crashes stuff around and breaks it, you have to prove it’s yours so there’s no compensation for this experience except to say: be v. careful about who you bring into your home or heart, in future. The dom. abuse laws still aren’t strong enough which is why it still happens. I beg women, please support other women, in these times! Encouragement, support, help. It means everything. In fact, all professions, everywhere, should be trained in how to spot situations where they can help such people trapped in relationships where it’s seems virtually impossible to escape.

This seems somewhat reminiscent of the way some authorities have “looked after” children in their “care”. I just wonder if there are two inherently different types of people on this planet – those who are nice, and those who are not? Or are we all capable of resorting to unpleasant behaviour, given the right circumstances?

Jane, I am so sorry to read that you’ve been in a similar situation. For anyone who thinks they, or someone they know, is in any immediate danger then I encourage them to dial 999. I know that sometimes in these situations that is easier said than done though.

Here are some more contact details for anyone who might be looking for help further:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247 (available 24/7), run in partnership by Refuge and Women’s Aid. Visit http://www.refuge.org.uk for more information and support.

Citizens Advice: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/gender-violence/domestic-violence-and-abuse/

Men’s Advice Line, for men experiencing domestic abuse: 0808 801 0327 Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0300 999 5428 or 0800 999 5428
Monday, Tuesday and Friday 10am to 5pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10am to 8pm
Tuesday 1pm to 5pm is Trans-specific

James says:
19 August 2019

Good question mr

David M says:
20 August 2019

Alex – A cautionary word here to those who decide ( quite rightly of course ) to follow your very helpful guidance to the various internet websites which can offer help / support / guidance.
Never access any of these URL’s ( links to websites ) on your home computer or smart phone. There are computers available in most Public Libraries.
I suggest this because unfortunately all computers have memories which can be searched unless specifically deleted. I would think the very last thing any person living under domestic abuse conditions would want will be to give away their secretly achieved knowledge of potential help and escape routes to the predictable pattern of controlling constant checks of their abuser.
I am sure there are many more venues offering secure private access to online computers – anyone care to start a list please ?

I have been there it was horrific, when he beat our twelve year old son with a stool I found the courage to get him put out . Being frightened of him and lack of confidence was my problem.

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. It’s so heartbreaking to hear what you and your son went through. I hope that you’re both doing well now. Just to make you aware that Refuge and Women’s Aid have a 24/7 helpline for anyone who is or has experienced domestic violence – so if you or your son need any further help then please do make sure you visit their site https://www.refuge.org.uk/. They’ve got some really helpful advice for people who have left an abusive household.

Bullies are some of the most unpleasant individuals you could ever meet. Bullies, of course bully because they’re essentially cowards. Cowardice and fear turn them into bullies.

There are also big people, or those who carry weapons, who can simply get their way by superior strength.

Thank you Which? and especially to Sam for increasing awareness of domestic abuse and finance.

In addition to one in four women, one in six men experience domestic abuse and this certainly includes finance. One charity, ManKind Initiative, reports “In terms of victims experiencing economic abuse 40% are men (60% women). One in seven men (15%) and one in five women experience financial abuse (21%) ”
For further details https://www.mankind.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/45-Key-Facts-Male-Victims-March-2019-Final-Update-June-2019.pdf

Christine C says:
15 August 2019

I can relate to what Lisa says, both personally and from the point of view of clients of mine. Working as a financial advisor, I would go into people’s homes and go through their finances with them. From time to time, a wife would take an opportunity when her husband/partner was out of the room to ask me how she could set aside some ‘spare’ money as a rainy day escape fund. Just the knowledge of having some money which was secret brought a huge amount of peace of mind.
There is a good deal of very sensible advice from others who have left their comments here.

Helen says:
16 August 2019

My mum gave me a piece of advice before I married – ‘always have a secret cash fund – you can escape if abuse happens’. I took her advice – as it happened I needed to make a quick exit. I had enough money to ensure a place to stay and time to seek legal advice. I would not have been able to do this without money. Cash is essential in many cases and we need a choice as to whether we use cards or cash. It is an insurance policy – not dishonest, illegal or a tax dodge.

Tuition fees for two children, including one who did a two-year MA,
restricted MY access to cash for a very long time!

And your point is …..

Derek Smith says:
18 August 2019

I’m a retired police officer, working almost exclusively in urban areas of the richer parts of England for 30 years. One thing that should be emphasised is that the training of officers changed remarkable over my service, and continues to do so. Also, procedures have changed, albeit from a very unsympathetic level. When I ran a shift, any domestic abuse incident had to be debriefed to me or a sergeant. No person should be frightened of contacting the police to report abuse.

On a slightly different point: one of the infuriating aspects is that neighbours are reluctant to phone the police, or get in touch with social services, even when children are involved, when they believe or suspect domestic abuse is occurring, or someone is suffering from a serial abuser. The number of times a neighbour will say something along the lines of ‘it’s about time you lot did something’. The police can’t act without information or, better still, a complaint. The same goes for relatives, friends and work colleagues.

The problem lies in our culture I think. Living cheek by jowl, we become deaf to the personal situation of others. Is it that we think that if the victim doesn’t do something about it, then we should not interfere? It obviously is difficult to go against one’s upbringing, but it is an essential of a civilised society. I’m not trying to share blame; it lies firmly and entirely on the head of the abuser. But please, just a call, anonymous if you must, might stop further abuse or allow a victim a way out.

It will only get worse.

David M says:
20 August 2019

Derek – I believe you are sincere in your comment, but speak only from the viewpoint of the police, without considering the acquired safety instincts from personal experience of “Joe Public” and their collective experiences resulting in ( a lack of ) trust levels in “the police” , and their habit of kicking the can down the road to inadequate “welfare” and other public services with appropriate “Tickboxed Forms” all nicely filed for statistics.

My point is that there is very little follow-up on an ongoing basis to ensure the safety and welfare of the abuse victims beyond the end of the “shift”. This sad state of affairs remains the biggest hurdle we all have to face – “Can we be trusted to continue to support and protect – come what may – even a few weeks down the road ?” Sadly, I believe that so far as the police are concerned the answer remains a definite “NO”. I would dearly like to see this change. I am only too well aware that the “Dixon of Dock Green” image is long gone and modern day policing is even very far from that being taught in Police Colleges in the 1950’s and 60’s ( Yes – I once wore the uniform for a good few years !! ) BUT – do you not agree that present day values and attitudes within the police service – mainly at C.I. level and above – are out of step with reality – more concerned with political correctness garnered in a University than genuine “humanity” and that this is possibly where the rot has deeply rooted itself ?

It is all too easy to lose sight of the abused victims when there is no “Box to tick” ! Their fears are real and loss of protection can very quickly have grievous consequences – something not taught during Law and administation courses.

19 August 2019

My wife was in a similar marriage with physical and lack of cash abuse.
We have both been married for 42 years now and are very happy together. A joint bank account which she can have access to any time and her own savings account.

I have never witnessed any abuse. Until two years ago I had never heard of any abuse affecting people I know, but one of our charity volunteers announced that she was having implants because her upper front teeth were missing. I asked why she had lost them expecting a tale of dental problems and she said that her former husband had knocked them out. I suppose that if you don’t ask there is a lot you don’t find out. Money was obviously not a problem because she had decided to have all her teeth replaced with implants. She is now very happily married. I hope that life gets better soon for those who have posted here.