MSE News

Major banks pledge to help financial abuse victims

Major high street banks have signed up to a voluntary code of practice to help victims of financial abuse. 

The code, which aims to help identify financial abuse and support victims of it, will be implemented over the next 12 months.  

It's based on recommendations from the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce, which includes organisations such as banks, consumer groups and charities.

The banks which have so far signed up are: Bank of Ireland, Barclays, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, The Co-operative Bank and Smile, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank, Santander, TSB and Virgin Money.

If you've experienced financial abuse, you can get help by calling the National Domestic Violence Helpline or the Men's Advice Line.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a way of controlling a person's ability to earn or use their own money or financial resources, and is often seen alongside other types of abuse. People can be financially abused by partners, family members or carers – anyone can be a victim, but older people can be particularly at risk. 

Financial abuse can take the form of control, exploitation or sabotage – examples could include running up debts in a partner's name, or not allowing someone access to their bank accounts or income. 

What does the code say?

The code has six main principles designed to support financial abuse victims:

  • Raising awareness and encouraging disclosure. Firms should make their employees aware of what financial abuse looks like, who could be affected and what challenges are faced by victims. This will include distributing a standardised consumer information leaflet.

  • Staff training. To help recognise signs of financial abuse, understand referral processes and treat potential victims with empathy. 

  • Respond in an appropriate way. Bank staff will help to minimise distress to a customer if they have disclosed financial abuse – for example, by giving them longer to think when making financial decisions, and directing them to specialised support.

  • Minimising the need to repeat their story. Firms will tell the customer which parts of the organisation have been informed about their financial abuse.

  • Help to regain control of finances. Firms will take steps to help victims to access financial services in their own name. This could include changing access or security codes to accounts, or using alternative addresses for customers such as registered refuges or safe houses.

  • Signposting and referrals. Firms will let customers know about other types of help available to them, such as legal advice or debt help, and consider when to refer customers to external organisations.

What do the banks say? 

Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance at trade body UK Finance, said: "Financial abuse does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone and whether you or a person you know is a victim of financial abuse, taking those first steps to seek help is very brave.

"The financial services industry can play a key role in helping combat financial abuse, offering support to victims to help them regain control of their money.

"This new voluntary code provides further guidance for banks and building societies and, once rolled-out, will help raise awareness amongst staff so that victims of financial abuse can be confident that they will be treated sympathetically and positively in these particularly difficult circumstances."