Surviving Economic Abuse - Nicola Sharp-Jeffs

In this episode, Tamsin speaks to creator of Surviving Economic Abuse, Nicola Sharp-Jeffs. 

Nicola is Chief Executive of the Charity Surviving Economic Abuse, as well as an Emeritus Research Fellow in the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University. She has worked in the violence against women and girls sector since 2006.

In 2016, Nicola was made a Winston Churchill Fellow and travelled to the US and Australia to explore responses to economic abuse. It was her determination to ensure that women in the UK have access to the same responses that led her to establish SEA.

In 2020, she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to victims of domestic and economic abuse. She was the 2020 winner of the Third Sector Award for Rising Chief Executive and also named ‘Rising Leader of the Year‘ in 2021 by the Charity Times Awards. – national domestic abuse helpline


Tamsin is a Chartered Financial Planner with over 20 years experience. She works with couples and individuals who are at the end of a relationship and want agree how to divide their assets FAIRLY without a fight.

You can contact Tamsin at or arrange a free initial meeting using this link. She is also part of the team running Facebook group Separation, Divorce and Dissolution UK

Tamsin Caine MSc., FPFS
Chartered Financial Planner
Smart Divorce Ltd

P.S. I am the co-author of “My Divorce Handbook – It’s What You Do Next That Counts”, written by divorce specialists and lawyers writing about their area of expertise to help walk you through the divorce process. You can buy it by scanning the QR code…

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(The transcript has been created by an AI, apologies for any mistakes)

Tamsin Caine 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the Smart Divorce Podcast. I'm Tamsin Caine and I will be your host during this our series 6 of the podcast. We're delighted that you're joining us again, and hope that you really enjoy today's episode. During series 6 we'll be speaking to other divorce professionals who help in perhaps some of the more unusual ways. So we will be speaking to lawyers who deal with international divorce. We will be speaking child inclusive mediation to name a few. I really hope that you enjoy today's episode. Let's jump right in. Hi, and welcome to the Smart Divorce podcast. I am very delighted to be joined this morning by Nicholas Sharp-Jeffs. We have been trying to record this podcast for absolutely ages. So I'm so glad that she's been able to join me today. Nicola is the founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, which is a charity and she's going to tell you much, much more about that over the course of the next 30 or 40 minutes that we're chatting together. Nicola, do you want to, do you want to tell us a bit little bit more about you?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 1:24
Sure. So as you said, I'm both the founder and chief exec at Surviving Economic Abuse, charity. So I set up having heard from so many victims and survivors about the economic impact of the domestic abuse that experienced and controlling tactics as part of the coercive behaviour that the perpetrator had used, and it just flummoxed me really, that there was no real research or practice out there at the time. So to backtrack slightly, my career started in around 2006, in the domestic abuse sector, I started to have regular contact with victims and survivors of domestic abuse. So really, it all stemmed from their need me to actually undertake a piece of research because I was doing my master's in women in child abuse at the time. And it just became a real passion for me, because of the injustice that I saw victims and survivors experiencing and that ongoing impact of the economic abuse on their lives, you know, decades later, really. So it just, yeah, created a passion to support and to try and make a difference in this space.

Tamsin Caine 2:30
We're very glad that you have set up this amazing charity. Certainly, when I got into working with divorcing couples that I never, ever imagined that I would come upon. So many people who've experienced coercive control or some form of abuse, not necessarily fists, but but all sorts of, you know, financial economic abuse, as I say coercive control, etc. So, I think we should begin by probably defining economic abuse. So can you can you tell us how we define economic abuse?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 3:08
Yes, of course. And perhaps it's a good opportunity to differentiate between economic and financial abuse as well. Absolutely. So financial abuse, being about the control of money and finances and economic abuse, about being the control of money and finances and economic resources more broadly. So basically, anything that money can buy. So we would include in that things like food, clothing, housing, transportation, tech, you know, those resources that you need to get by on an everyday basis. And as I recognise that the beginning, certainly 95% of domestic abuse cases that we're aware there is this kind of economic controlling element within that experience. So it's more common than not. And we kind of see that behaviour working in three different ways, which, again, perhaps challenges, perhaps on myths and stereotypes around financial and economic abuse more broadly. Certainly, we see restriction. So if it's instance, survivors who aren't allowed to bank account, who have to ask for money, who have to ask permission to use the car, or to open the fridge and take food out of it, which kind of creates a dependency, which makes it very difficult for victims and survivors to kind of have the income available to them. That money that they need it short notice or that was also needed short notice, perhaps to leave. And then that makes rebuilding their life quite difficult if they haven't got access, perhaps the passwords to a bank account that wasn't their name, for example. But what we see more sort of increasingly are examples of exploitation and sabotage. So exploitation, very common is where one part that refuses to contribute at all to household costs, for example, so the victim and survivor is kind of having to pay for everything. So in this case, they do have access to money and economic resources more broadly. It's just they have have no real control over how they're being used. Because quite often the perpetrator insists on a particular kind of lifestyle standard of living, which the victim and survivor is desperately trying to meet. Quite often we see the victim and survivor and their children, often living in poverty, whilst the perpetrator has a much higher standard of living. And the victim and survivor might be working multiple jobs in order to kind of meet the demands of the perpetrator. And, of course, within the classes between Charlie contexts, you know, to fail to provide that lifestyle, you know, could lead to physical sexual violence, you know, so there's a fear of what could happen if those demands aren't met. So we see that quite a bit. And we also see sabotage where a victim or survivor, again, has money, finances economic resources more broadly. But the perpetrator deliberately sabotaging them through destroying possessions, doing things like disconnecting utilities, which then require for the reconnection fee. So they create a number of additional costs, which again, absorb any available income that the victim or survivor does have. So alongside that kind of dependency, we see a lot of what we call instability to victims and survivors who on paper might look after doing quite well. But the reality is that their finances are really unstable. And again, that creates a situation very similar to dependency, where because they're not in control, it's very difficult for them to make decisions, and to exit and to rebuild their lives, as I mentioned earlier.

Tamsin Caine 6:29
Sounds absolutely horrendous. And, you know, I'm sure lots of us are struggling to believe that people behave like that. But it's bit more common then than we think. What sometimes then, in those situations that you've talked about, is there also an aspect where the couple gets into a lot of debt, because the person who's victim is trying so desperately to make things work and to to, to keep up that lifestyle, that they actually ended up in taking out loans and spending on credit cards, etc, just to to maintain that lifestyle.

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 7:10
Certainly, so we call that coerced debt, and it takes many different forms. So as you just rightly identified, it might be that survivor takes out, put it or gets into debt to pay for things to appease the abuser. So the things that they're demanding, you know, there's kind of multiple jobs, you know, are not enough, you know, once all of the household bills and the childcare etc, has been paid for. So that's absolutely one reason why a victim survivor would get into debt. Three restriction, or sabotage or money might be spent that being put aside for other things, which means the victim and survivor has to resort to credit, perhaps, you know, to pay for clothing, money had been put aside, but the perpetrator stole or spent it without their knowledge. And we also see quite a lot of the perpetrator actually taking out credit and loans in the victim spiders name, I think without their knowledge, or they might suspect that that's the case. But again, to ask him to challenge would be dangerous for them. So we see operating on lots of different levels really,

Tamsin Caine 8:13
around us, isn't it. And it is the usually a move for a kind of progression through from different kinds of abuses. So perhaps starting with financial moving to economic and eventually ending up in a more physical type of abuse,

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 8:30
I would say that economic abuse is probably one of the earliest forms of classic withdrawal and behaviour. And it's usual for it to not be alongside emotional abuse. Because again, there's kind of real subtle, controlling behaviours, which you might not recognise. Because, you know, certain behaviours, I guess, are to a certain extent ingrained in society. So this idea that, you know, if you are a couple, you automatically have a joint bank accounts, you know, the perpetrator, making comments, you know, if a victim survivor wants to keep their own bank account, well, that demonstrates that you're not really committed to the relationship, you know, I've given up my joint account, or my suit my personal account, why wouldn't you to kind of really using, as I kind of said, also emotional kind of tactics to kind of start to bring that control about. So I would say economic, emotional, like any form of control, you know, that might be enough that if a victim or survivor does challenge, then that might escalate into physical or sexual violence, as you say, but then also we see economic abuse either start or escalate post separation, again, because it's what we described as kind of a form of abuse, it doesn't need physical contact. So obviously, physical sexual abuse, you know, you need to know when person is you need to be in the same space as them. But for economic abuse, you know, it can happen virtually via technology. So it's one way in which a perpetrator could continue to exert that control even post separation. So So to say, I'm usually at the beginning threading through, and then escalating or if it hasn't started before starting at the post separation stage.

Tamsin Caine 10:08
Right. Okay. So if if somebody recognises the sorts of things you've been saying and thinks, I think, I think I'm in this position. And they're thinking about leaving. But, you know, in an economic abuse situation, it's incredibly difficult because they don't tend to have their own money, what, what options are available to them?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 10:35
There are a number of options available. And I would say they're growing all the time. So of course, the welfare system has always been that kind of safety net, for victims and survivors who might be fleeing with nothing. So if they are in touch with domestic abuse surface, for example, or other specialist organisation and provides advice for people in these circumstances. And then that's absolutely one route towards getting independent income, and rebuilding, that can be difficult if you've got a lot of assets. Obviously, that's one of the difficulties that a lot of victims and survivors have around Legal Aid, in terms of getting the resource that they need for legal proceedings. So again, a lot of work going into now to show that you experienced domestic abuse, for legal aid purposes. There have been some test cases around disregarding capital that people might have, it's an understanding as economic abuse, that what's that person might have that asset on paper, they're not able to afford it right now. So we're starting to get a little bit more understanding, certainly in that space of economic abuse. Increasingly, the banks and building societies are doing more. So listeners might have heard, for example, that tsp about a month or so ago, announced that it provides a fee fund for its customers. So they'll provide up to 500 pounds issued notice. That's something that we're calling on governments to do for everybody who shouldn't depend on when the bank certainly, even though financial institutions might not be very, sort of open and market what they do for victims and survivors. Certainly, it's surviving economic abuse, we work with around sort of 20 banks, and societies, we're doing work in this area, certainly 30 firms and 40 brands are signed up to something called the financial abuse code, which sets out minimum standards and principles in terms of how they will respond. So I would encourage listeners, again, to be in contact with their banker building societies, they've had their support. We've got guidance on finding economic this website about how best to do that, you'll get a better response, if you perhaps phone up and ask to speak to the customer vulnerability team than you would for example, just going into branch and speaking to someone behind the counter, so there is advice and guidance about how to do that. But certainly when you get to the right people, it's amazing what can be done to support victims and survivors in this space. And to support them to regain that control moving forward as well. Importantly, employers are doing more in this space than ever before, something called the of the name escapes me for a moment or two employees initiative on domestic abuse is official, a number of corporates have signed up to them, both domestic abuse and their employment policies. And sometimes that also includes economic support, and certainly off the back of COVID. And the cost of living crisis. You know, corporates, either has employers or people who have contact with customers who might be experiencing economic abuse are doing more and more in this space. So there is that support available, and lots of other support, which are probably failed to mention that which again, exists on the slightly economic abuse website.

Tamsin Caine 13:56
Fantastic. Oh, it can be so difficult. And there, there is research to suggest that, that it takes victims of abuse up seven times to leave an abusive relationship. So it's obviously not something to be taken lightly that we've that we think, Well, why on earth are you going there, you're staying when you're when you're in that position, you should, you should surely just leave. But it's not as simple as that is.

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 14:25
It's not as simple as that. And actually access to economic reasons is one of the primary reasons given for why victims and survivors don't leave. Not always aware of the help that's available to them, certainly, but it's also the primary reason why a lot of victims and survivors go back. As I said, Because perpetrators will continue to exert control post separation is the most dangerous time for a victim or survivor. Again, it's another common misperception that just leaving means that the abuse will end. Sadly, it doesn't and again, we often see it escalate. The vast majority of homicides happen at the point of separation or on the first Few months afterwards. So again, it's really important that anyone experiencing this is supported to leave in a safe way. We're not saying don't leave, absolutely leave. But you know, it's not as easy as just leaving certainly. And again, as I said that control might escalate. And you know, perpetrators might deliberately, you know, start using things like joint financial arrangements are taking victims and survivors back to court multiple times that might be through family court in terms of child contact, in addition to divorce proceedings, making things really, really difficult for you, it's more survivor and to rebuild their life and to be able to live independently and to have that economic independence that they do need. So it's about making sure that that right support is in place, to the victims and survivors. Hopefully, it can separate sooner rather than later.

Tamsin Caine 15:48
So difficult, isn't it? So you set up surviving economic abuse? And you've mentioned a number of resources that are that are on your website, what does what does the charity do? What does it aim to do? And how does it support victims?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 16:04
The mission of Surviving Economic Abuse is to raise awareness of this form of abuse, because not everybody is aware of it, and we seek to transform responses to it. So we're not a frontline domestic abuse organisation. We support frontline charities in that space, because they provide that holistic response to a victim or survivor, which is really, really important. So what we do is build the capacity of those local services to be able to support victims and survivors, as I just refer to in the banking space, there might not be support available locally, but there is that kind of central place. So we occupied or in an interesting space ourselves, I guess, in terms of the role that we can play to facilitate that contact. So for example, we can facilitate a referral from a domestic abuse charity to certainly at Lloyds Banking Group now, especially its domestic and financial abuse team. So there's ways in which we can sort of help local services support victims and survivors. And that includes, you know, how to talk about economic abuse, to see the extent that the economic abuse might have taken to identify areas where the victim or survivor will need support. We also work with money and debt advice organisations. To your question earlier, Tamsin, we know again, that of that 95% of those experiences economic abuse 60% of being coerced into debt, as a consequence of that, that's a common support need as well. But that's regulated advice. So the domestic Peace service can't give advice around it. So that needs to be done by a regulated adviser. And again, it's really important that advisors in that space have a really good understanding of economic abuse and domestic abuse more broadly. Because first of all, they must do that work safely, especially if the victim survivor is still the perpetrator. So one of the things that they'll do with victims and survivors to continue, for example, with the kind of work through a budget to say, actually, what could you access, you know, to kind of provide that confidence, you know, that there will be the means, to leave and to and to live independently. And again, the perpetrator is likely to assault the victim or survivor, that, you know, there's nothing that anyone can do, and there's no support available. So that works really, really important. That needs to be done safely. And also, in a way, that's non victim blaming, because if money I'd advice organisation doesn't know that someone's experienced domestic abuse, they might say, well, you know, how did you get into this position, you're not very good at managing your money. You know, they can't, they won't recognise it, there's been a complete lack of control. And again, it's really important then to frame interventions in a really empowering way. So giving victims and survivors a range of options, rather than suggesting they go down a particular path, because again, it enables the victim or survivor to take back control. So we'll do that we work in the financial services space, as well, as I've already mentioned, like I'm really closely with banks and building societies, who've signed up to the financial abuse code. And then we also work with UK finance, which is the membership body has implemented that code. And we work with the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, and because that code sits within the Financial Conduct Authority is guidance around supporting vulnerable consumers and something new, which is just coming in called consumer duty as well, which is looking to respond not just to problems arising from economic abuse, but also to think about actually how products and systems are designed, which kind of helps facilitate inadvertently discontinuing controls. So that's another sort of really important area of work. So we kind of work on individual efficacy to support those who are working with victims and survivors to kind of do their very best in where we are now. We work with industry and regulators to sort of constantly be pushing the boundaries. So we recognise where some of the barriers might be, for example, some of the challenges that organisations can't respond to so where you kind of need that change perhaps in industry or regulatory guidance. And where we can't influence in that space, then we will talk to governments. And we do a lot of work, certainly with the home office, who is responsible for the cross governmental response to domestic abuse. And also sort of related departments of people like the Department for Work and Pensions certainly around offer benefits, and child support, for example, the Ministry of Justice around delayed the the acronym is day, I think it's business enterprise and industrial strategy, I think, are right in saying in terms of the employer response, and what can be done for consumers, and then people like the Treasury, in terms of HMRC. So lots of different levels of advocacy, to support victims and survivors. And we provide resources for those professionals in their spaces. And we also capture our best practice and knowledge with victims and survivors for self efficacy as well, and all those resources on our website. And I should also say that we do have a frontline partnership with money advice plus, so that provides the national casework service and support line to victims and survivors. And again, all the details to be referred to that are on our website. And I've mentioned the frontline partnership we have at Lloyds Banking Group, one of the surviving economic abuse team sits within their specialists and actually, and domestic abuse team as well. So we're always able to kind of take that evidence from the frontline partnerships into the advocacy and campaigning work that we do.

Tamsin Caine 21:32
Okay. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, it's great that it's great that the charity exists, and that it's doing so much work. Just for me, just go back for a second to you. So you mentioned you work with a lot of banks and building societies on and with the FCA. With regards to products. And, you know, I know about the code that's, that's been brought in for banks, which is, which is fantastic. And, you know, it's every step that that's taken towards making things easier is is a good thing. We talked earlier about about that. And one of the things that that tends to happen is the use of not paying debt, in order to destroy the other person's credit, or obviously, if the if the victim moves out of their family home and doesn't have access to money isn't able to pay their chair of the mortgage, and they end up in a situation with poor credit. Is there anything that's unknown, putting you on the spot with this, because we haven't talked about this? Is there anything happening with with regards to helping victims to not have because that poor credit isn't necessarily a result of their, their own doing in their own not wishing to pay debt down, but actually impacts them potentially for for years and years to come? If not for the rest of their lives, depending on how far that that non payments gone?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 23:03
Absolutely. So we see that as a form of economic sabotage that destruction of someone's credit rating. And that impacts then has, as you just outlined terms in. So certainly banks have to deal with the issue, of course debt as part of the collateral abuse code. In some cases, they will write off the debt. And we have created something called the economic abuse evidence for which we're piloting with our partner Money Advice plus, because again, on average, a victim or survivor will have five different creditors that they need to contact. And that can be really difficult with everything else going on when someone's fled from abuse, you know, with the risk of criminal justice system or family and more practical issues as well. So this form is filled in by qualified debt advisor. And again, it's really important to get that advice in the round. And then that is presented as evidence of economic abuse to the creditor, and then they make a decision based on that. So in some situations, we're able to sort of remove the debt completely. Again, because banks have built in slices starting to really understand this issue. Certainly, internally, they have their own credit rating systems. And they will make decisions outside of policies, if they understand your victim or survivor is in a particular place because of the abuse that they experience. They might look at their lending regulations. Sometimes they might look at affordability in terms of mortgages, go by evidence, saying well, actually, you know, this is a joint mortgage, but actually, we can see that you've been paying it for years. You know, even if you fail our affordability, check for mortgage because he actually you can afford it. So there is you know, some facts there certainly. But more broadly, we're working with industry and people like Equifax and Experian to think about what we can do, and certainly I know it's an issue that aren't UK Finance. really keen on exploring this year. So it's really lies. And, you know, she say, it's really important that we address this. Not only because, you know, it's important to repair that credit rating, but you know, to create that safety, you need to ensure victims and survivors have lots of different strands of income. And if you think about how will you, you know, perhaps rely on credit from time to time. You know, it stops us being in difficult situations where we might have to borrow money or do things that we don't want to do for the money, it's really important that victims survivors have access to lots of different types of income. So, you know, it might seem a bit mad sounding, but someone should be able to borrow money moving forward. But no, again, single point Tamsin is being in control of that borrowing, as opposed to someone else being, which is it for you.

Tamsin Caine 25:44
So you're absolutely right. And, you know, people do need to be able to have access to credit, you know, mortgages are, how most of us buy houses, you know, very few people I know are able to save up to get to a point where they can afford any sort of property, you know, that they buy on their own. And without that good credit history, which could have been completely trashed by the other person, you know, if you have any joint credit with another person, and they stopped paying, you either have to continue to pay the entire debt yourself, or you you stop paying and just pay your share. Or you might be in a position, if you've moved out of the home that you shared with that person where you can't afford to pay for your new lodgings and your old family mortgage in you end up with a, you know, a poor credit file through essentially really no fault of your own. I think it's time that we that we did look at that. And it is something that I don't think you really become aware of until you start being involved in people who are victims of this kind of abuse. And now we spoke to Rosie who surname escapes me, I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. I think we spoke to her last series. And you know, she's a huge advocate for for all of this work. And they know she's, she's put in a huge amount of work herself and with the banks to help move forward with the with these, these changes, which we just use quite simply to say, don't wait. It's as simple as that. So we're coming to the end of chat for today. I just wondered if you had any sort of final thoughts on on a few if you're in this position? Kind of a, I guess, a broad outline of where to, you know, if you feel like this is you, where do you start? Where do you go? What would the what would the actions that you should be thinking about taking might be?

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 27:53
Absolutely, so I would say, first port of call would be surviving economic abuse at websites. So if you think this is something that you might be experiencing, we've got sort of a identification tool on there. So it's something that you can kind of go through and establish whether or not this is reflective of your experience or not. And then what that does is start to affect you and different types of resources that might be helpful for you. So organisations that you can be in contact with things that you can do yourself, on how to be in contact with bank or building society has been mentioned. So I think, as I said, it's the first port of call, that's really helpful. For anyone who is in immediate fear and is concerned about their safety, the National Domestic Abuse helpline is really important. If you have an immediate concern, obviously call the police. If you kind of need help in an emergency situation, you know, in terms of leaving, perhaps you feel you need support to do that. And you might want to access a refuge, which again, is kind of a secret location for people who feel the perpetrator might try to find them, their life is at risk. You can access support. By that mechanisms. Well. We do provide peer supports five in economic abuse. So we've got survivors, forum, victims and survivors can join. So that's kind of a closed on platform where conversations can be had about experiences and people kind of discuss what they've done and what's worked and what hasn't done. So that's kind of nice practical support mechanism also kind of provide some emotional support at the same time. And then as I said, there is assess of many kind of linked sort of, you know, issues and organisations, you know, whether it be in the legal sphere. So, again, there's information about legal organisations. If you're listening to this as a professional yourself, we do have information from legal professionals as well in terms of actually understanding the nature of economic abuse and the impact that might have an appliance farm and how best to identify or remedies for them. So again, all that information surviving economic abuse website as well. And we also run the kind of an info act mechanisms where we provide advice we can signpost. So if having looked at all those resources and spoken to organisations, you might still be struggling. It's very welcome to drop us an email as I said at info at surviving economic booster org. And we can sort of use our contacts and knowledge to signpost to

Tamsin Caine 30:24
That's fantastic! Thank you so much for that. That was that was a really comprehensive rundown of what of what people can do and we will put the link to your website and also the National abuse stop domestic abuse helpline on the show notes as well so that if anybody does want to or rather than need to use those resources, you will be able to find them easily in the show notes. It just remains for me to thank you Nicola very much for joining me today. It's been a really useful podcast I'm sure our listeners will have found it very helpful as well.

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs 31:02
So thank you for inviting me

Tamsin Caine 31:08
I hope you enjoyed the episode of the Smart Divorce podcast. If you would like to get in touch please have a look in the show notes for our details or go onto the website Also if you are listening on Apple podcasts or on Spotify and you wouldn't mind leaving us a lovely five star review. That would be fantastic. I know that lots of our listeners are finding this is incredibly helpful in their journey through separation divorce and dissolving a civil partnership. Also, if you would like some further support, we do have Facebook group now. It's called 'Separation divorce and dissolution UK.' Please do go on to Facebook, search up the group and we'd be delighted to have you join us. The one thing I would say is do please answer their membership questions. Okay, have a great day and take care!

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