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The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18859, in the name of James Dornan, on financial abuse to be recognised fully as coercive and controlling behaviour. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which covers coercive and controlling behaviour, makes not just physical abuse, but psychological abuse, emotional trauma and controlling behaviour a crime; welcomes this new law and the benefits that it will have for people who have been subject to domestic abuse, including those in the Glasgow Cathcart constituency; however, understands that independent researchers, along with several anti-abuse campaigners and third sector organisations, are calling for financial abuse to be fully recognised as controlling and coercive behaviour; notes calls for financial institutions to use best practice rules when it comes to their dealings with particularly vulnerable women who have suffered financial abuse, and for others to review their handling procedures of financial matters when it comes to domestic abuse, and further notes calls for Police Scotland to take account of financial abuse when investigating crimes committed under the Act.
I start by thanking everybody who signed my motion, and I thank members who have stayed for the debate.
Financial abuse is an aspect of coercive control. It is a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviour that restricts the victim’s freedom. It is important to understand that financial abuse seldom happens in isolation; in most cases, perpetrators use other abusive behaviours to threaten the victim and reinforce financial abuse.
Here are a few facts about financial abuse. A person is five times more likely to be experiencing physical abuse if they are experiencing financial abuse. The risk of domestic homicide is greater for victims of financial abuse. Lack of money and financial resources is the main reason why women return to abusive partners post-separation, and economic barriers and lack of financial independence are the main factors in women staying in abusive relationships.
Two months ago, I held a round-table discussion on the impact of financial abuse of women. In all the work that I have done in partnership with women’s charities, that meeting was probably the most eye-opening on how deeply rooted and systemic coercive control of women can be.
Presiding Officer, I had a fantastic speech prepared for tonight’s debate, but having read a briefing that I had requested from the Daisy Project, I think that there is no point in my telling you my view on the issue. It is better that you hear the words of the women who have been going through financial abuse. Here is an explanation of it by the Daisy Project, which is a women’s support charity in my constituency:
“This is a type of abuse which in our experience includes identity theft, having money or other property stolen, being defrauded, being put under pressure in relation to money or other property and having money or other property misused or withheld.
Financial Abuse is often viewed as an unacceptable but an inevitable reality for the women we support. Societally there has been a very high tolerance of women being left to cope with enormous financial pressures both during the relationship and after they leave, in particular when they are bringing up their children.
A primary focus of our work is often risk assessment, safety planning and supporting women to rebuild their lives safely. Unfortunately this has led financial abuse to be identified but rarely addressed by any agencies. We are working with women and in discussion with the police to explore the best way to address this persistent, long term form of abuse and control over women. Women report to us that it massively impacts on their quality of life, freedom of choice and leads to them feel degraded, distressed and hopeless.
It is recognised that perpetrators of this type of abuse are often well versed in avoiding detection and being brought to justice and that a major aspect of their technique is in relying on other agencies such as police, social work, DWP and court processes to further the abuse.
Following the round table discussion 6 women from DAISY met to explore and document some of the ways that perpetrators have used financial abuse to their detriment. Some of the tactics used are clearly criminal however others are less clear. Women were certain that the overall impact on their lives, in the long term, was devastating.
It was found that:
In each case the financial abuse has continued long after the relationship ended. One women shared that the perpetrator would ‘lend’ her money to pay for family grocery shopping and that she was always in debt to him for providing essential household items … the perpetrator often took control of all the finances and was always aware of her salary, payment date etc. It was common for the perpetrators to be the main claimant on benefit claims, car finance and mortgages. It was agreed that this was so subtle to begin with, that it took a long time for women to realise what was happening. ... Women reported money for holidays, family funerals and even children’s savings being squandered and misused for the perpetrator’s own enjoyment. ... perpetrators obtained details of internet banking passwords, credit cards, bank accounts and used them fraudulently during the relationship and after it had ended. One woman discovered 14 online credit accounts in her name, once the relationship ended. She is still paying them off 6 years later. ... In most cases Child Maintenance was not paid appropriately and in several cases, arrears were written off meaning a loss of thousands of pounds for some women. ... Perpetrators often had access to full legal aid or would represent themselves and use the court process to incur extortionate costs for the women to defend (many of whom work and only have access to partial legal aid).”
One of the very concerning failings that came to light at the meeting was that very often agencies enable a perpetrator to further the abuse when he abdicates all responsibility for the debt he has built up.
I wonder whether James Dornan, or any other member, has had constituents come to them with an issue that I have heard about, which is that even after a case has been to court and domestic abuse been proven, a woman who has a joint bank account has had to go to the bank with her partner, former partner or husband to close the account. The damage that that can cause psychologically is immense.
I could not agree more with my colleague. That situation just highlights the problems that we have when dealing with organisations and agencies. In many cases, they are looking to stick to the rules, or are looking for the easy way out to get the money.
Women have said:
“He ran up Council Tax arrears when he was in control of the finances and the council have now allocated the whole amount to me, as it is my address”.
“Income Support Loans which were taken by him but tied to both insurance numbers in a joint claim have now been allocated to me. DWP have allocated it all to me because it was a joint claim. They have transferred all the loan to me as he is no longer on benefits”.
Court systems are used to further the abuse:
“He refused to sign the paperwork for 1 year. He deliberately did this knowing I would be stuck in limbo and that this was putting me under financial pressure”.
Another man signed up to a trust deed for £30,000 but does not pay for it; it is in the woman’s name.
I could go on and on, but I shall finish with a case study that encompasses many of the issues that women face when they are trying to overcome coercive control.
Sarah was married outside the UK to a British husband. He decided to go back to the UK, do her visa paperwork and call her to the UK, where they would settle and raise a family. She had a new baby when her visa came through, but the visa was for her only. The perpetrator convinced her to come over and leave the new baby with her mum for a few weeks until her daughter’s paperwork was completed, as otherwise her visa would expire. Sarah’s husband separated her from her child for four years. She had no money to fly back home and get her daughter or to pay to apply to bring her daughter to the UK.
Once her daughter was in the UK, she was given no money to buy toys or clothes for her child. For five years she had the same clothes that she came into the UK with, and she was given no money for winter jackets or appropriate clothing to deal with Scottish weather. Sarah had never seen Glasgow city centre because she was always kept in the house and had no money to travel. She had never gone to dinner or to the cinema and was not allowed to shop alone at any supermarkets. She had no bank account and all the child benefit was paid to her husband.
Unfortunately for Sarah, when social workers got involved in her case due to issues around care of her child, they did not see any of the coercive control or financial abuse that she was suffering. She was seen as an unfit mum for not providing adequately for her child.
There were warning signs. Why did Sarah not have a bank account? She did not know the way to her child’s school, which was a clear sign of severe isolation. She often had no jacket, or had summer shoes on in winter, when she went to social work meetings. Why did she take four years to bring her child to the UK? Again, no financial abuse was detected, and she was classed as an unfit and uncaring mother.
The powerful words of the women—many of whom I know and am close to—show that despite on-going good work by the Scottish Government and the prosecutorial services, there is much, much more to be done.
For the sake of those women and many more, it is time that society recognised just how damaging financial coercive control can be for the brave women and children who are innocent victims of uncaring men.
I congratulate James Dornan on bringing this important and timely debate to the chamber. Domestic abuse manifests itself in many forms, and not all victims and survivors of domestic abuse bear physical wounds and scars from that abuse.
Today’s motion recognises that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 criminalises coercive and controlling behaviour. Although it is not tangible, such behaviour nonetheless follows patterns that can result in deep emotional and psychological scars that persist long after the physical ones have healed.
The motion focuses on financial abuse as a largely invisible and particularly insidious aspect of domestic abuse, in which the abuser uses financial dependency to control the victim’s life. The motion notes the calls for financial institutions to use best-practice rules in their dealings with vulnerable women who have suffered financial abuse.
I want to raise awareness about—and congratulate the bank—the Royal Bank of Scotland’s initiative to partner with the UK charity SafeLives, which is dedicated to eradicating domestic abuse completely. Through that initiative, the charity will consult on RBS policies, procedures and services to ensure that the bank is providing the best possible support to people who are affected by financial abuse. Working with the charity Surviving Economic Abuse, SafeLives has created a bespoke training package for specialist teams in RBS. The training teaches staff how to spot financial abuse and to provide appropriate help, both of which are challenging yet crucial aspects. In addition, RBS has appointed a financial abuse specialist in its customer protection team, who is available for appointments and who supports customers on an individual basis in order to understand fully their situation and the support that they need.
That partnership has allowed RBS to build on its existing support services with practical measures, including provision of new and secure cards and personal identification numbers, online banking and mobile app access, and the ability to open a new account with a different national sort code.
In recognition of the fact that reporting financial abuse can be—to say the least—challenging, the bank will develop a specific online form that will allow customers to contact the bank on their own terms. It also offers secure video banking appointments with specialist bank staff, in order to facilitate face-to-face conversations and discussions about available options.
The RBS initiative provides a model that other financial institutions could copy, in a concerted effort to attack the invisible and hidden financial abuse that can have such a devastating impact.
Traditionally, reports of domestic abuse tend to increase over the festive period. Most people also have additional financial pressures, which add to the vulnerability of those who are subject to financial abuse. Therefore, I hope that more financial institutions will take similar positive steps to the ones that I have outlined, in order to identify and tackle financial abuse.
I thank James Dornan again for providing the opportunity, especially at this time of year, to raise awareness of this controlling and coercive abuse.
I thank my colleague James Dornan for bringing this important debate to the chamber. It is right that we highlight this all-too-common form of abuse. The days of recognising domestic abuse as bruises and cuts are over, although physical abuse is still happening at horrific levels. We now know that abuse takes many forms and the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which for the first time recognises coercive abuse, makes it illegal to carry out a pattern of behaviour that damages the mental wellbeing of—primarily—women.
What is financial abuse? It is about power and control and about withholding finances to curb the liberty of a partner, to disrespect them, to humiliate them and, essentially, to deprive them of their human right to exist without permission. I remember that when I was in my teens my mum told me of her shock when a friend from a well-off background asked her for money to buy a pair of tights because her husband would not give her any money to buy some. My mum was horrified and so was I, but at the time I did not recognise it as coercive control or financial abuse; I just realised that it was a horrendous way for one human being to treat another.
Women’s Aid’s “The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse” revealed that nearly a third of domestic abuse survivors said that their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator and a quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship. That poses an increased risk for the survivor. Economic barriers to leaving can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing greater danger, injuries and even homicide as a result.
Of course, financial abuse impacts heavily on children. One of the most basic parental instincts is to provide for your child, to make them happy and give them what they need. By depriving women of money, or control of money, perpetrators are also, therefore, abusing their children. They are denying their partner the right to provide for the children, which can psychologically damage the relationship between mother and child and coerce the child into thinking that the father cares more for them if he buys them things. That is a horrible way to behave at any time, but at this time of year, just before Christmas, the pressure and pain leading to feelings of guilt must be even worse.
Financial abuse takes many forms. It may be fraud, obtaining power of attorney by coercion—elder financial abuse is sadly all too common—non-payment of bills without disclosing that to the partner, withholding child maintenance payments or racking up huge debts without thought for the damage it will do to the family. All those things make life intolerable for the victims.
Our wonderful third sector organisations such as Women’s Aid and Relate, and many business organisations and even banks, as Margaret Mitchell outlined, offer advice and support on how people can deal with and protect themselves from financial abuse. However, Linda Fabiani’s point about women having to go to the bank to close the account was an excellent one, and something that the banks should take on board.
The message from today’s debate should be for people to recognise when they are being financially abused, to seek help and support from the many organisations out there and to know that they are not alone. We should all call out this despicable controlling behaviour at every opportunity and continue to raise public awareness.
I congratulate James Dornan on securing this important debate and recognise the important contributions that we have heard from members. The debate brings an important issue to the chamber and reveals some of the difficult and unacceptable circumstances in which women have to live as a result of financial abuse.
As the motion notes, the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 plays an important role in bringing to justice people who commit such scandalous acts of domestic abuse against women in Scotland. The 2018 act goes further than addressing physical abuse and makes controlling behaviour that causes women to suffer emotional or psychological trauma a crime. That is important, because that is how some men in relationships behave towards women. It is right for that to be captured in law and for people to be brought to justice as a result. This debate focuses on widening the issue to cover financial abuse. In some relationships, men—mainly—use their position and their finances to deny women access to finance and to make their lives a misery as a result.
A constituent in Glasgow has been in touch to demonstrate the issue. She was married, but the home was not owned jointly; the man kept it owned singly. He earned £150,000 a year, but he did not give his wife any proper access to cash, so she required to fund groceries, clothes for her children and half of the household items through either money that he chose to hand down to her—pocket money, if you like—or savings. Eventually, the woman left the relationship, but she has had great difficulty in seeking appropriate compensation through the courts. She has endured paying £55,000 in legal fees in trying to take her case through the courts. The case highlights the point that courts in Scotland can award only three years’ financial compensation post-divorce. This debate and the case in my example highlight a number of important issues.
The provisions in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 must be explored as fully as possible to ensure that financial abuse is covered and that people who commit it are captured under the act. Police Scotland should undertake the appropriate work to do that.
Other members have made important points about banks and financial institutions. Linda Fabiani gave the example of people having to go to the bank together to resolve the signature issue, which is totally unacceptable.
James Dornan has secured an important debate. It has identified that there are perhaps some gaps in the law, but there are also actions that financial institutions and Police Scotland can take. I will be interested to hear the minister’s response to those points.
I congratulate James Dornan on securing a really important debate on an often unseen issue, and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to talk about it.
Financial abuse affects some of the most vulnerable and isolated victims of domestic abuse in Scotland. For many victims, such abuse acts as a physical barrier to leaving their abuser, as many members have said. Financial abuse can leave victims with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. It can leave them without access to their own bank accounts. They might be earning their own salary but not have access to it. They might not even have access to a mobile phone and could be cut off from their families and friends, with the account being paid for and controlled by their abusive partner. If victims have no independent access to income and if abusive partners build up debts or commit fraud, often in the victim’s name, that can leave a lasting negative legacy, even once a relationship has ended.
Even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser, perhaps in relation to child maintenance or by putting them under financial strain through protracted legal disputes. A couple of constituents have come to me who have been beyond access to legal aid—they have jobs so, on paper, they are earning a salary—but they are battling with an abusive controlling partner, who has been able to throw considerable amounts of their wealth at solicitors. That extends their control, in relation to things such as custody, access and the sharing of assets, beyond the point at which the woman has walked out the door.
I will mention an issue that I was told about back in 2014 when I first started campaigning for access to period products for women who did not have enough money to buy them; I did that under women for independence before I was elected. I went into the Cyrenians in Aberdeen to do a wee bit more research, and I was completely and utterly gobsmacked by a discussion that I had with the domestic abuse officer. They told me that the issue affected not just those in poverty, but those in abusive relationships. Many women shared their experience of having money withheld from them, which meant that they could not get access to sanitary products. One woman who I spoke to, who was the victim of financial abuse, told me how controlling, threatening and degrading behaviour had left her vulnerable and isolated, because, without access to money to get the most basic of period products, she could not even leave the house. As such, her actual movement was controlled for a week every month.
Scotland is leading the world in tackling gender inequality and reducing the stigma of periods by increasing the availability of free period products, which I have long argued should not be based on income. I have heard horrific stories of how women could be physically punished if they bought themselves any kind of personal items, and how they might be given small amounts of money if they behaved in a certain way or agreed to do certain sexual acts as payment for having sanitary products.
Personally, I think that we could do more to give abused women access to legal aid. Financial control can be exerted even if a woman has her own salary. If the man is particularly aggressive and in a vengeful frame of mind, and has access to significant funds, he could drive a woman into penury by having her undergo legal processes over assets and access to children. Before I sit down, I must welcome the fact that the legal profession and the judiciary are looking at better training for sheriffs in relation to understanding those issues as they make judgments, particularly around things such as custody and the division of assets.
I, too, thank James Dornan for bringing this important members’ business debate to the chamber this evening. An enduring misconception that we see today is that domestic abuse implies only physical abuse—we know that that is not the case. Domestic abuse spans physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuse, as well as what we are here to discuss today, which is financial abuse.
It can happen to anyone—often in the subtlest ways, which are frequently undetectable by those on the outside. Indeed, we need to remember that wider domestic abuse affects a range of people, ages and ethnic groups. When it comes to domestic abuse, there are strong and complex links between physical health, wellbeing and financial security. A threat to any of those tends to be a threat to all.
Financial or economic abuse can encompass many things, but at its root is the misuse of money. For example, perpetrators can gamble away family finances, use victims’ credit cards against them, or commit to financial contracts in their name. It can mean limited opportunities when it comes to education or employment, or restricted access to essentials such as food, clothing and transport. For example, one survey that was conducted by Women’s Aid showed that more than 70 per cent of respondents were forced to live without essentials.
The coercive nature of financial abuse is evident. By definition, coercive control is a pattern of controlling, demeaning and threatening behaviour that confines a victim’s freedom. The consequences of financial or economic abuse are far reaching, and, for many victims, seemingly insurmountable. First, there are practical consequences. Women can be left with sizeable debts in their own name, accrued by their partners. As has been mentioned already, they might be left without access to their own bank accounts or any option of an independent income. Many still have to worry about the practicalities of child maintenance, even after leaving their partners.
However, the impact of such abuse also takes a deeper, more emotional toll. For instance, I have read personal accounts that detail feelings of isolation and fear. For many women, limited access to their finances can stop them from leaving their abuser, if they feel that they are left with no choice, which leads to an increased risk of continued abuse. Many feel that they are unable to rebuild their lives in the face of financial instability—in effect, removing their independence.
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 seeks to address the gap in our law whereby psychological abuse in a relationship was previously not taken into account as an offence.
By including it as a new offence under this act, Parliament has rightly recognised that domestic abuse cases should not centre only on one single incident of threatening behaviour or physical abuse. Rather, the criminal offence should reflect the course of conduct over time—encapsulating both physical and psychological abuse.
The sobering evidence that was included in the Justice Committee’s stage 1 report highlighted how financial abuse is most definitely part of psychological abuse. Testimonies spoke of victims who were forced into economic dependence on the perpetrator. By criminalising the coercive and controlling behaviour of offenders, the act has established a single offence that covers psychological, sexual and financial abuse and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
However, l understand the desire and need for further clarity surrounding the inclusion of financial abuse in the act’s formal definition. It is important to be as clear as possible, to ensure that protections against financial abuse are reflected not only in our legislation but in our responses to and understanding of this form of abuse. It is vital that we do all that we can as a Parliament to ensure that the coercive nature of financial abuse should not be minimised in any way.
I begin as others have done this evening by congratulating James Dornan on securing this debate on an important subject. His speech drew out the link between financial abuse and violence and it illustrated very well how serious the issue is.
Last year, the Parliament came together to pass groundbreaking new domestic abuse laws, including the creation of a new offence that covers not only physical abuse but forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that were previously very difficult to prosecute. Financial abuse, be that by controlling a partner’s access to money, running up debts in their name or preventing them from being able to earn money—many of the things that we have heard about in members’ speeches this evening—is one of the many forms that domestic abuse can take. Last year, the Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 last year, which makes it easier to prosecute those non-physical types of domestic abuse.
It may be helpful if I explain how the new offence can be used to prosecute financial abuse. One of the ways in which the new offence extends the ability of the criminal justice system to respond to domestic abuse is by explicitly providing that abusers who engage in a course of abusive behaviour that makes their partner or ex-partner dependent on or subordinate to them, that deprives them of or restricts their freedom of action, or that regulates or monitors their victim’s day-to-day activities, where a reasonable person would think that the behaviour is likely to cause the victim to suffer physical or psychological harm, would be committing a criminal offence.
The definition of abusive behaviour is non-exhaustive and, in any individual case, it is open to the court to conclude that any behaviour that is intended to or is likely to cause the victim physical or psychological harm can be included in the charge. The definition of abusive behaviour would in any given case include financial abuse of the kind that has been described so well by members. In any individual case, it is for Police Scotland and the Crown Office to investigate and prosecute under the new offence.
Earlier this year, when he was speaking to the
, Detective Superintendent Gordon McCreadie from Police Scotland’s domestic abuse task force said:
“We have victims who have been made to account for their every movement. There are others who have had their money rationed. None of these forms of abuse would have been prosecuted under previous legislation.”
We have worked closely with justice partners to ensure readiness for the implementation of the act. We provided £825,000 of funding to Police Scotland to support the development of training for 14,000 police officers and staff. Police Scotland has also developed a self-completion e-learning package on the new legislation, which has been made available to 22,000 staff. Training for police officers is delivered by SafeLives, and it recognises financial abuse as an interwoven feature of the coercive control that often forms a key part of a pattern of controlling behaviours. We are working with SafeLives and are building on Police Scotland’s domestic abuse matters programme to develop an e-learning resource for professionals in housing, social work, health and schools, so that they have a shared understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, including financial abuse.
I appreciate the final point that the minister made. What serious work will be done to ensure that housing associations, the DWP and local authorities understand the mechanisms when couples split up, whereby the male tends to be the person with control of the finances and the woman tends to be the one who gets the bills?
The member makes an important point. I mentioned the e-learning course that the Government is promoting. I can explore the issue further with officials and come back to the member, if that is acceptable to him.
It is important that victims of controlling behaviour and psychological abuse understand what the change in the law means for them. Only if victims understand that a crime has been committed against them can perpetrators be held to account.
For that reason, we undertook a public awareness campaign, which coincided with the 2018 act coming into force. Members are no doubt aware of the campaign, whose core message was that controlling behaviour is domestic abuse. The campaign highlighted examples of controlling behaviour, and one of the messages was that, if someone’s partner is controlling their finances, that is domestic abuse.
It will take time for us to see the full picture of how the new legislation is being used, but I am encouraged by early indications of the use of the new offence. Management information that Police Scotland published shows that 862 new crimes of domestic abuse were recorded in the first six months in which the provisions on the new offence were in force. Last week, the Solicitor General for Scotland informed the Parliament that, between 1 April and 30 November this year, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service prosecuted 539 charges under the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. She said that, although most of the prosecutions for domestic abuse are still going through the courts, there have been 101 convictions using the new offence.
There is more to do to protect victims of domestic abuse—that is clear. That is why, in October, the First Minister announced that we will introduce a bill in this session of the Parliament to create new protective barring orders to keep suspected perpetrators away from the home of someone who is at risk of abuse.
The Scottish Government is committed to a fair benefits system that respects all. That is why delivering split payment of universal credit is important; the approach will give everyone access to an independent income and promote equality in the welfare system.
Members rightly highlighted the important role that financial institutions can play in supporting vulnerable people who are experiencing domestic abuse. SafeLives has teamed up with Surviving Economic Abuse, which is a UK-wide charity that is dedicated to tackling economic abuse, to develop and deliver training for Royal Bank of Scotland Group staff, to enable them to understand coercive control and the strong element of economic abuse in that regard, which Margaret Mitchell talked about. I understand that a number of major financial institutions have shown interest in taking action on financial abuse and economic abuse more widely and are working with SafeLives and other specialist organisations, including Surviving Economic Abuse.
This evening’s debate has been important. It is clear that Scotland has moved a long way in recent years to improve the justice system’s response to domestic abuse, including by reforming the criminal law so that it can better tackle financial abuse. Of course, there is always more that can be done, and we will continue to seek to protect people who are at risk of domestic abuse.
Meeting closed at 17:38.