Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

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Big 4 banks are taking a stand against domestic violence related financial abuse


The big banks are ramping up their focus on stamping out financial abuse in domestic violence relationships, with some confirming they will “cut off” customers who exert undue control over another person’s finances. Here, we explore the importance of this news, what financial abuse entails and the steps you can take to protect yourself or someone you care about.

From November 2023, any NAB customer identified as engaging in financial abuse will have access to their bank accounts suspended, cancelled, or denied.

The bank has updated its terms and conditions with a new reference to “unacceptable account conduct,” putting financial abusers on notice that they will be cut off from the bank’s services.

NAB said that the changes will come into effect as part of its response to crack down on financial abusers. The bank has also been blocking abusive messages sent alongside payment transfers and has blocked more than 200,000 abusive transactions since 2022.

NAB said that concerns about financial abuse are a top reason for customers reaching out to the bank’s support team.

Commonwealth Bank has also recently stepped up its focus on addressing the same issue, launching a campaign on the signs of financial abuse and similarly updating its terms and conditions. Westpac has also reportedly changed its terms and conditions to reference abusive transactions. ANZ has a Family Violence Support page which includes financial abuse.

NAB said it is working with the other major banks to establish a unified approach to addressing financial abuse in the industry.

These much-welcomed actions follow a call by the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety for banks to enhance financial security. Notably, the centre found last year that none of the 20 member banks of the Australian Banking Association had included any reference to financial abuse in their terms and conditions.

As family lawyers who often see the devastating impact of domestic and family violence intertwined in family law matters, we understand the profound importance of these changes. They signify a shift in the banking industry’s commitment to addressing financial manipulation. Financial abuse is a harrowing reality that can trap people in abusive relationships. It can also extend beyond couples and occur between family members or those in caregiver relationships.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic family violence that is non-physical and can be hidden within relationships, with most victims themselves unaware it is happening. It may begin subtly and progress over time. It often involves an individual either controlling a victim’s access to income or finances or sabotaging their ability to make money in the first place.

Financial abuse can involve:

  • one party taking complete control over the other person’s finances,
  • one party drip-feeding the other person an “allowance”,
  • one party monitoring every cent the other person spends or forcing them to seek permission to buy certain things,
  • one party racking up debt in the other person’s name,
  • someone refusing to contribute to household expenses and bills,
  • someone stopping the other person from studying or working to control income, or
  • someone forcing their partner to sign over assets or take out loans in their name against their wishes.

In many cases, victims of financial abuse feel trapped and powerless, and they can’t see any way out of their situation.

Usually, the perpetrator and victim are in an intimate relationship. However, other individuals who are vulnerable to experiencing financial abuse include older people or people with disabilities.

Commonwealth Bank said in July 2023 that more and more Australians are experiencing financial abuse despite the public’s understanding of the issue improving over the past couple of years.

The bank paired up with consultancy giant Deloitte to publish a joint report in 2022 looking at the cost of financial abuse in Australia.

The report said that over 623,100 individuals were subjected to financial abuse in 2020. It calculated that financial abuse is estimated to cost victims $5.7 billion in withheld income, refusal to contribute to shared household bills and expenses, or liability for joint debt. It also costs the economy about $5.2 billion in productivity costs, mental health costs and economic losses.

One of our recent blogs explored the topic of financial abuse in great detail, looking at what can happen when a couple separates and one party has no financial autonomy or control, what’s being done to address financial abuse, and whether the court approach is working or not. Click here to read the article.

We believe it is incredibly important to keep raising awareness about this form of domestic and family violence and encouraging discussions so that people can identify the warning signs and know where to turn for help.

Where to turn to stop financial abuse

If you are in a relationship and are a victim of financial abuse, you should make an appointment with a family lawyer who practices exclusively in domestic and family violence and family law.

An experienced family lawyer can put you in touch with organisations that can provide immediate urgent assistance, including:

  • urgent temporary and permanent accommodation
  • food and personal hampers
  • financial assistance.

Some big banks offer services to help victims of financial abuse and domestic and family violence. For example, NAB offers grants of up to $2,500 to help customers experiencing domestic and family violence flee their circumstances. It also offers no-interest loans and referrals to support services.

Centrelink has fabulous customer service personnel who can organise immediate financial packages.

Free counselling and support services can also guide you through this challenging time and help you with the immediate steps to take to remove yourself from the situation. These include:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – a national helpline that provides confidential information, counselling and support to people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse.
  • Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) – a service that aims to empower and support men worried about their behaviour.
  • Relationships Australia (1300 364 277) – a leading provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.
  • Lifeline (13 11 14) – a national charity that provides crisis support 24 hours a day.

If you are suffering any form of abuse or domestic violence and you are in fear of your safety, your priority MUST be to dial 000. Your local police station is fully equipped to provide immediate assistance to you. You do not need to suffer in silence.

Many people stay in an aggressive relationship because they see no way out. The fear of the unknown keeps them in the relationship. There can be a light at the end of the dark tunnel, but in most cases, you can’t do it alone, and that is where you need to be strong enough to ask for help.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping families during difficult times

If you are experiencing financial abuse or other forms of domestic and family violence, our experienced family law team are available to discuss your circumstances and provide you with guidance quickly and confidentially.

Our goal is to resolve matters between parties in a way that does not cause any more conflict than is necessary and to ensure your safety is paramount. We want to help you move on and be financially secure and physically safe. Any abuse, whether emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse, is not okay!

Our experienced team is ready to help you. For advice or fast action, contact Family Law Department Manager Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email or phone our 24-hour phone line on 1800 621 071.

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Laura Dolan - Associate - Family Law

Laura Dolan

Family Law

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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