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NatWest review highlights measures needed to tackle coercive debt

NatWest has announced today the findings of its internal review into coercive debt as the Domestic Abuse Bill is ratified into law.

The review looked into how it can better support customers who have been victims of economic abuse and coercive debt. As the Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law, the bank is committing to putting greater measures in place to seek to prevent and protect customers affected by these issues. 

ONS figures show that each year around 2.3m of the public aged 16-74 suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.6 million women and 757,000 men. 

Coercive debt is seen as a key challenge to the recovery of victims of economic abuse. The review, conducted over the last six months in conjunction with SafeLives and Surviving Economic Abuse, considered internal processes, as well as opportunities for preventive solutions and enhancing practical support available for customers affected. This included solutions to address the impact of coercive debt on credit scores and financial confidence. 

 

The review drew out several themes and areas of focus:

 

  • 58% of people hadn’t heard of coercive debt and 79% hadn’t heard banks talking about it
  • Without careful understanding and a focus on prevention, banks could only end up dealing with the output of coercive debt, rather than seeking to find ways to prevent or proactively addressing the issue

 

NatWest is committing to making a series of changes to the way they support customers, to complement longer term research into how signs could be detected proactively. Measures that will be rolled out by the bank include:

 

  • Further colleague training with SafeLives and Surviving Economic Abuse to increase awareness amongst staff of coercive debt and financial abuse – the process of the review has prompted colleagues to identify additional cases of customer coercion
  • Research and further exploration to understand whether we can identify customers at risk of coercion in order to prevent abuse or tailor support available

 

Alison Rose, CEO at NatWest Group said: “The Domestic Abuse Bill includes a significant step forward in protecting those experiencing economic abuse, or at particular vulnerability in this regard.  The increase in reported cases during recent pandemic restrictions has called attention to the scale of this harmful issue. The Bill will improve the response on every level, but also underlines the important role banks have to play.  We conducted an internal review to understand how we can better protect customers affected by economic abuse and want the findings to help increase both recognition of coerced debt, as well as industry action in supporting survivors of economic abuse.”

 

Earlier this year NatWest Group announced applications for ‘The Circle Fund’ in partnership with SafeLives. It is available for frontline specialist services supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse. This followed the announcement of NatWest donating £1m for the Fund, the first bank in the UK to offer this amount of financial support to domestic and economic abuse victims and survivors. It will offer 150 services the opportunity to receive funding to distribute to those most in need. 

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 Specialists 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: https://safelives.org.uk/news-views/domestic-abuse-and-covid-19