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Real Voices: Surviving financial abuse

Rosie Lyon is a survivor of financial abuse. In this week’s Real Voices, she describes her experience trying to move on with her life after leaving her abusive ex-partner, and how the lack of understanding from financial organisations and services meant that there was very little support available for her. 

I got into the relationship at 17 years old, and we were with each other for seven and a half years. When I was 22 we got a joint mortgage on a property together. I was so excited about getting a mortgage as this had always been a goal of mine. But by 2019, towards the end of the relationship, I had started to have doubts about my partner and was unsure whether I wanted to stay with him. He was a liability, and had become financially dependent on me. I just felt like I had to do everything for the both of us, I was both a full-time housewife whilst holding down a full-time job. I decided to leave him in June 2019 and moved out to my parents’ house. I tried to put the property we had together up for sale, but he kept stalling and refusing to make a decision. He was still living in the property but I was paying the mortgage and the bills in full, and he was giving me some money towards the house but not regularly. The flat was a tip so I was too embarrassed to have an estate agent coming round to take photos, so I carried on paying the bills for a few months whilst trying to persuade him to sell. 

In October 2019 I decided enough was enough, and I needed to cut him off financially. I went over to the property to see him. At this stage he owed me about £800, and I told him I was determined to sell the property. He protested, saying that he would be homeless (even though he had family he could have stayed with) and then he kicked off. We had a physical altercation and I had to call the police. I went to the courts and got a non-molestation order out on him. 16 hours after my ex was served this order (after I had hired a bailiff to serve it to him and he tried to knock the bailiff around) he breached it. He got arrested and charged for breaking the non-molestation order, and got two fines, community service and a restraining order was put in place. I had to go back to court for the initial non-molestation order as my ex was protesting and saying that I was lying. The court adjourned in early 2020 and then COVID hit. 

I was still living with my parents and paying the mortgage for the property in full at this time. I got a solicitor, who told me to stop the payments. From January 2020 to September 2020 this solicitor was writing to my ex asking him to agree to sell the property. I even tried the tactic of telling my ex that I would handle the selling process myself, and he could have any equity and I would walk away with nothing. But he had an element of control over me whilst we still had the house together, so refused to budge. 

In September 2020 I let the bank know that I would be stopping the payments, and explained my situation. I then had a bad experience with the bank, as they began constantly bombarding me asking for payments and I had to keep repeating my story, which was horrific. I was transferred to their vulnerability team in January 2021, and I was told my choice was either to go to court for the bank to repossess the house or to fight it out in court. Fighting it in court would have meant losing thousands of pounds, so it wasn’t an option for me. I was told first that we would go to court for repossession, then I was told it had been put on hold to see if my ex would pay, even though I’d told them that it was a domestic abuse situation. My mortgage has been in repossession since September 2020, I haven’t been paying but they charge £800 each month that you miss a payment. My credit scoring goes down every month. 

I’ve done a lot of interviews in the press about this situation, and I’ve received awards for talking about domestic abuse. Because of this, I’ve been harassed by my ex and his family, who think they deserve a share of any money I get from telling the story, but I do all of this voluntarily. I had to get the police involved in August 2022 to get them to leave me alone. The property finally got repossessed in June 2022, but they still charge for missed payments until the repossession is completed, which means until someone else buys it. I also had bad experiences with my property management company, who didn’t understand or have any empathy towards my situation, and I had issues with my water supplier ringing and complaining that my ex had not been paying any bills. I heard through the grapevine that he eventually moved out about a year ago, so he had been living at the property for several years, not paying any bills. I’m still waiting for the bank to repossess the house, and apparently it’s meant to be finalised this week which will be a massive relief. They’ve said they will write off all the debt, because I’ve made several complaints to the bank about the rubbish service I’ve had from them during a difficult time. Then I’ll be free, the only issue being that my credit score is now so low that I can’t get another mortgage or a loan. I still live with family, and can’t rent in my area as estate agents take one look at my repossession history and credit score and won’t help. The council won’t assist me because apparently I earn too much money for their support. The only way they could help me is if my parents write a letter declaring me homeless, at which point they would put me in a shelter, which isn’t something I’ll ever do as I just don’t need it. I can’t believe how many consequences the abuse has had to this day. 

It’s shocking how little these financial services know about how to help people in abusive situations. Back in 2019 when I first reached out for help (which really wasn’t that long ago) nobody understood what I was going through. For example, I was in constant contact with my property management company from the point that I moved out of the house.  I was ringing them weekly and making sure they were updated on my situation. At first they said they understood and would put payments on hold, but then they just bombarded me with requests for money. Their solicitor was thankfully sympathetic to me and got them to back off for a while. They’re still emailing me to this day demanding money, even though my name is no longer on the property. 

The police had very little understanding and it took them a month to arrest my ex after our physical altercation. There was an incident where he hacked into my laptop and was stalking me during this time by logging onto my accounts. The police said it wasn’t a breach of my non-molestation order so they couldn’t do anything. The courts were also horrific. I had special measures in place so that they would put up a screen in the courtroom, meaning I didn’t have to see my ex whilst I was testifying, but there was a hole in the screen so I could still see him anyway. I felt as if I was being victim-blamed during the hearing and that there was no empathy for my situation. The bank had a vulnerability team, but they took months to actually do anything to properly help me out. There aren’t many procedures in place at all for victims of financial abuse. There was no support or advice available, they didn’t even know to refer me to specific charities who could help. I had a domestic abuse support worker who attended court with me the first time, but when it came to my second hearing she didn’t reply to any of my emails and I had to go alone. It’s been an awful situation, made worse by the lack of help and mishandling from services who should know better.

I’ve always worked in banking, and I remember when I started my career nobody spoke about financial or domestic abuse. When I started researching after my experience, there was only one bank I could find that had a page on their website about domestic abuse. I was gobsmacked. I came up with the proposal for a fairer financial future for sufferers and survivors of domestic abuse, which ended up winning me the 2021 Global Young Banker of the Year award from the Chartered Banker Institute. The publicity from that has meant that I’ve gone on to do a lot of press and media interviews about my experience and financial abuse in general. I do podcasts, articles, blogs, and I speak at events. My main focus is changing the way that banks treat survivors of financial abuse, so that victims can rebuild their lives more easily. 

There’s so much that needs to change. People desperately need to be educated more on financial abuse. That means the banks, the police, the courts. Solicitors charge victims an arm and a leg for their services without understanding the first thing about the implications of financial abuse. As for the banks, their whole idea of what a victim of financial abuse looks like needs to change. Their conception of a victim is either a broken and beaten woman with no money or job to her name, who needs to go into a refuge and then get council support, or as someone with so much money that they don’t need help. I don’t fit into either of those categories, and the banks didn’t know what to do with me. I am a working class individual but I’m on a decent salary, I do need support but I don’t need to go into a women’s refuge. There needs to be support for the people like me in the middle, who have a bit of money but whose credit score has been so impacted that they can’t get a loan or rent, meaning they can’t move on with their lives. I’ve started doing work to get loans approved for people with low credit scores as a result of financial abuse, which has been piloted in one of the banks I work for. I’d like to see changes in the finance sector when it comes to mortgages, as it really shouldn’t have taken years for them to repossess my property. You should be able to disentangle yourself from an abuser much more easily. I work closely with Equifax on the credit score issue, to have further understanding and support in place for people like me, whose low score is no fault of their own.
The likes of the Vulnerability Registration Service offer support and training for other financial service providers in how to deal with vulnerable customers fairly. I think more organisations should come together and work out a consistent effective approach across the board for helping vulnerable customers, and make sure that their staff are trained properly as well. I don’t feel domestic abuse sufferers and survivors are yet equal to everyone else in the financial world. Improvements in these processes will allow survivors to disentangle themselves from their abuser, and will ultimately save lives.