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NatWest & SafeLives launch review into coercive debt

Review is the latest in a series of policy interventions designed by the bank in conjunction with charity SafeLives to support those who have suffered from economic abuse.

NatWest is today launching a review into how it can better support customers who have been victims of economic abuse and acquired coercive debt. The review, conducted in conjunction with SafeLives, will look at internal processes, as well as preventive solutions and practical support available for customers affected.

Coercive debt is seen as a key challenge to the recovery of victims of economic abuse. Coercive debt is generated through financial transactions which the victim is told to make (or is aware of the abuser making in their name) in a context where there are negative consequences for non-compliance. Examples of coerced debt may include being made to have sole responsibility for a lease/mortgage/utility/household bill; taking out a loan/mortgage/credit card; or purchasing an item on credit.

Last year NatWest announced the launch of its partnership with SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good. Through the partnership, SafeLives has consulted on bank policies and practices to improve outcomes for customers, leading to the innovation of the NatWest’s e-form for survivors to contact the bank safely and the introduction of Video Banking to prevent impersonation of victims. NatWest was named the winner of the Surviving Economic Abuse Best Practice Award for Banks and Building Societies – to recognise banking teams improving outcomes for victims of economic abuse. Earlier this year, NatWest also announced a £1m fund to support survivors of economic and domestic abuse and is the first bank in the UK to offer this amount of financial support. 

NatWest will continue its policy development through the internal review, working with SafeLives and looking at the impact of credit references to explore solutions in tackling coercive debt. 

The bank is currently exploring a range of options to be looked at, including:

  • Our controls and processes when credit with joint liabilities is applied for, administered or recovered 
  • Ways in which to prevent coercive debt applications and protect customers affected (including two-to-sign policies)
  • Support available to customers experiencing and affected by coercive debt
  • Solutions to address the impact of coercive debt on credit scores and financial confidence

Alison Rose, CEO at NatWest said: “Economic abuse is one of the mechanisms for coercive control, which can have truly devastating impacts on people’s lives. At NatWest we want to drive change in this area through the review. This is just one way we are building on our partnership with SafeLives to help empower our customers through financial education, with the goal of keeping them safe in difficult circumstances. As a bank we are committed to championing people and families, and we have specialist staff at NatWest making a practical and important difference in people’s lives. Our dedicated specialists have a clear understanding of how to recognise and respond to coercive control – including economic abuse – and of the importance of ensuring survivors’ safety.”

Liz Thompson, Director of External Relations at SafeLives said: “Domestic abuse takes many forms and the impact of economic abuse can be felt just as powerfully as physical and emotional abuse.  If we are to end domestic abuse as a society, it’s crucial that we look at the whole picture. We all have a role to play in shining a light on abuse and reaching in to offer support.  We are delighted to be working with Surviving Economic Abuse in partnership with NatWest to help them support vulnerable customers and we welcome this new review into coerced debt, which can continue to cause such harm to survivors, long after physical abuse may have stopped.”

 

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO at Surviving Economic Abuse says: "It's fantastic that Natwest is undertaking this review. We know from over three years of research that forcing a partner into debt is a common tactic of domestic abuse. Findings from our Economic Justice Project found that 60% of victims are coerced into debt. Perpetrators use debt as a means to control victims, restrict their choices, and cause extreme levels of economic hardship, often for years to come. We hope that Natwest will work across the financial services sector to adopt a consistent policy position so that coerced debt is recognised, victims can seek redress, and perpetrators are held accountable."

Together with partners, SafeLives and Surviving Economic Abuse, NatWest are already working to ensure that vulnerable customers are protected at this challenging time. NatWest customers can: 

  • Report their circumstances using our secure online form 
  • Conduct secure confidential conversations with our dedicated Financial Abuse Specialist at a safe time for them 
  • Access existing support services including online banking and mobile app access as well as the ability to open a new account with a different sort code to hide a survivor’s location after they leave 

Further sources of information and advice about sources of support for all victims and survivors can be found here: safelives.org.uk