Ending Economic Abuse in the UK

by Maeve Halpin
Monday, 23 December 2019 10:23 GMT

A woman casts a shadow as she walks along an alleyway in central London, Britain October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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TrustLaw connects high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams to provide them with free legal assistance.

This project was nominated for the TrustLaw Innovation Award, that features not only a new and exciting idea or enterprise, but a legal team that used creativity in addressing the issues faced

According to the British charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) one in five adults in the UK have experienced economic abuse and over one-third of the victims did not tell anyone at the time. 

Economic abuse, a form of domestic abuse, occurs when a person’s partner repeatedly dictates their economic choices such as controlling their access to money. This instability results in unsafety in a partnership, as it can force a victim to stay with an abusive partner for longer than they would like.

Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) is the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of and transforming responses to economic abuse. In 2018, SEA wanted to better understand the impact of the UK’s current insurance law and insurers’ practices on victims of abuse. They contacted TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro bono service, for legal research into the matter and were connected to the law firm Cooley LLP.

 The experiences of domestic abuse victims with insurance had never been studied in the UK, making this research a first in the country and one of the only very few studies of this kind in the world. 

“The first challenge was to find a ‘way in’ to this issue,” said Alex Radcliffe, Associate at Cooley. “The ‘lightbulb moment’ was when we decided to review decisions of the Financial Ombudsman – over 30,000 – using innovative search terms and methods to find real examples of situations where the victims of domestic abuse can be let down by the insurance industry. Finding actual examples proved the point and brought the issue to life – it could not be ignored.” 

Cooley’s legal research provided solid evidence to demonstrate to the insurance industry that victims and survivors of domestic abuse are being excluded from insurance protection in several ways. Using this evidence SEA has begun to collaborate with insurers and industry bodies, to produce a best practice guide for insurers to better support and respond to the needs of victims.

“This is very meaningful as it is the first time the topic has received any attention in the UK and we hope will lead to tangible improvement in the way in which the insurance industry treats victims and survivors of domestic abuse,” said Alice Merry, Consultant at SEA.

“We have seen how the insurance industry has moved from initial doubt that this was a distinct problem to a position where they accept that insurers can and should do more to ensure that the victims of domestic abuse are treated fairly and sensitively. We are still at an early stage in the project, but we are optimistic that insurers will work with SEA to implement changes that will be of real benefit. We hope to work with SEA for as long as it takes to see this project through,” concluded Alex Radcliffe. 

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