UK businesses and charities are set to benefit from a free interactive guide to help their staff spot and tackle economic abuse when speaking to customers over the phone, according to Financial Secretary to the Treasury Victoria Atkins.
The interactive guide, which will be available widely later this year, is being released to 30,000 HMRC staff today to help them spot the signs and create an appropriate environment for victims to disclose their experiences. It builds on the government’s Economic Abuse Toolkit, released earlier this year.
Minister Atkins met with staff and survivors at Advance charity’s West London Women’s Centre today to mark the announcement and was joined by former Love Island contestant and domestic abuse campaigner Malin Andersson.
The minister ran through an early demo of the tool with attendees at the visit to drum up momentum as she called on experts to work with HMRC to get the online tool right, before they distribute it freely online later this year.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Victoria Atkins said:
“The government passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act and I am determined to build on that commitment to help victims.
Economic and financial abuse can be less understood than other forms of domestic abuse, which is why it is vital organisations share best practice with one another whenever they can.
That is why I’ve asked HMRC to work with charities and experts over the summer to produce a publicly available interactive guide which staff from any organisation which speaks to customers will be able use.”
Economic abuse, which domestic violence charity Refuge estimates 16% of adults in the UK have experienced, is when an individual’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources are taken away by someone else in a coercive or controlling way.
Internal guidance has been distributed to 30,000 HMRC staff today to help front line staff spot victims of economic abuse when speaking to them over the phone. It will help them understand the different types of economic abuse, as well as what signs and characteristics to look out for.
The aim is for this guidance, with support from industry, charities and experts over the summer, to be turned into a free interactive tool to support businesses and organisations whose employees also speak to customers daily.
Niki Scordi, Advance’s CEO said:
“Understanding the behaviours of domestic abusers and their continuous attempts to intimidate and control survivors, mainly women and children, long after they leave the abusive home is vital. This includes control through economic and financial means, such as child support, school fees, bank accounts, loans and access to employment.
Supporting survivors with specialist Domestic Abuse Advocates in the community and charities like Advance is essential to help change, and sometimes save, the lives of those devasted by domestic and economic abuse.”
Specialist charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), which was one of the organisations which contributed to the Toolkit, has seen a 150% increase in its website user numbers over the past two years (April 2021 5200 users. April 2023 13,000 users).
SEA research also found seven in ten front-line professionals reported the number of victims of economic abuse coming to their organisation for help had increased since the start of the pandemic. By the end of the first lockdown, SEA found one in five women were planning to seek help around welfare benefits.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, CEO and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse said:
“Economic abuse is an insidious and often invisible form of control, one which can trap a victim-survivor in a relationship with an abuser and leave them feeling like there is no escape. This form of abuse can create dependency on an abuser by restricting their access to economic resources, or instability if the survivor is forced to cover all household costs. It causes long lasting harm including debt and bad credit, so that even when someone manages to leave, these effects can follow them around for the rest of their lives, often preventing them from moving on safely.
We know that victim-survivors are more likely to disclose economic abuse to their bank than they are to the police.
It is crucial that frontline employees – whether they work in the public or private sector – are trained to understand economic abuse and how abusers might use their service to continue to control a victim. It is vital they are given the knowledge and the tools to spot the signs of economic abuse, develop specialist responses and feel confident signposting a survivor to broader support. The right response can be life changing.”