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Client case study – why I’m raising my voice about financial abuse

HL client Aurora Higgs* tells her own story about surviving financial abuse, the hidden ‘tax’ on being single and why more women need to speak out.

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

This article is more than 6 months old

It was correct at the time of publishing. Our views and any references to tax, investment and pension rules may have changed since then.

As part of the Money and Pension Service’s Talk Money Week, we’re continuing to raise women’s voices when it comes to money.

I spoke to HL client Aurora Higgs about her own experience of financial abuse, and more importantly, how she’s built back and what she’s learnt along the way.

Typically, women are more likely to be victims of financial abuse – one in five women have suffered from financial dominance at some point in their lives and most of the time the abuse comes from their partner.

But this doesn’t necessarily paint a full picture. Like other forms of domestic abuse, it relies on the victims to come forward and share their stories.

Aurora hopes that by sharing her story, she can encourage other women to speak about their own experiences and help put a stop to financial coercion and control.

Talking about money is important for everyone, and we’re committed to providing a platform for our clients to share their stories. Aurora’s story could resonate with you, even if you’re not a woman.

While there might be helpful money tips in the article, it isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure if something is right for you, ask for financial advice.

When did you recognise you were a victim of financial abuse?

''I met my ex when I was really young, I was only 18 at the time. We both dropped out of university, but then I decided to go back and he started to feel threatened by the idea of me being successful. He started working, and then developed this story where he was supporting me through university.

He used that to make me feel like I was depending on him for achieving my dreams.

I wasn’t really aware at first that it was being used against me and because it’s not really spoken about, I didn’t really have a word for what was happening. Back then, I couldn’t label it as abuse or control. I was so naïve and young, and the situation happened before I really had a chance to register it all.

When I walked out, the only things I took with me were my books in a reusable bag for life and a couple of bin bags of clothes.

I realise now how vulnerable I was at the start.''

What’s the journey to building back looked like for you?

''Building back up has taken a long time.

The focus has been getting to a place of financial safety and comfort.

But that balance is so much harder than I thought. I’ve had to learn more about the world than I would have had I not faced that situation early on – like overcoming debt at a young age.

Although, when I look back, it’s been a really positive thing because I’ve had to focus on what’s important when it comes to spending money.

I’ve had to make choices that have wider impacts. By weighing those things up, I’ve been able to make good decisions and feel as though I’m in a safer position and it ultimately means I’m building for the long term.

I started putting away small amounts into long-term savings, just £25 a month. I pay into it without thinking about it at all. Even the barest minimum can help with redeveloping that kind of financial security.''

What’s been the hardest part of rebuilding your finances?

''The hardest part has been the invisible tax that singles face.

You don’t really realise how expensive things are unless you’re doing it by yourself.

I'm in a position where I'm trying to live the lives of two people rather than one – doing all the chores, admin, housework, and cooking for myself, whilst also trying to earn what feels like twice the income for a decent quality of life. And on top of it, also saving for a pension or a house deposit when I'm already 10-15 years behind other women my age.

Realistically, my income would go much further, and I’d have so much more money available if I could share that burden with a partner.

I’d be able to save for my goals, like a house deposit.''

Why do you think it’s important to talk about financial control?

''Domestic abuse is a real problem and although it affects both genders, women are disproportionately affected. But talking about it is still taboo, just as discussing money is still taboo, so discussing the impact of it on long-term earnings is very rarely mentioned.

Survivors often come out of abusive relationships, or even stay in them, feeling as if they’re the ones to blame and they’ve done something wrong.

I can’t tell you how many people thought when I left that, at best, I had done something to cause the situation, or at worst, that it was my fault.

If people were more aware of the reality of it, and actually knew how common it is, they probably wouldn’t have said what they did.''

What would you say to someone in the same situation?

''I’d want anyone else to recognise that what’s been done to them isn’t their fault. And use that knowledge to get back to a place of safety.

There’s a tendency to hide in the corner, so seek out resources so that you can find personal safety as quickly as possible.

Think about finance, like investing or saving or seeing if you can move to a better job. It’s not easy, abuse really breaks down your self-esteem.

But there’s three things I’d recommend.

  1. Make sure you have a small amount of savings for emergencies, especially if you’re leaving an abusive relationship. Those early months can bring with it a lot of instability. I didn’t have it and it would have reduced so many problems if I did.
  2. Be strong about what you deserve to be doing career-wise. I ended up being vulnerable in my job and instead of security, people started blaming me.
  3. Plan your future, don’t be afraid of investing and pay attention to your retirement goals even if they’re a long way off.''

What can financial abuse look like?

  • Not being allowed access to your own money
  • Debt being taken out in your name without you knowing
  • Having to ask for money or permission to buy something
  • A family member, friend, or individual offering to help with your finances but using your money for themselves.

If you believe you’re a victim of financial abuse or domestic violence, there are organisations that can help you. If you’re not sure who to turn to, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for free on 0808 200 0247 (24 hours), which is run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid.

*A fake name has been used for privacy purposes.

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Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

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