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What is domestic financial abuse?

Domestic financial abuse can destroy your prosperity, security, health and relationships. We explore what it is and how to recognise the signs.

Financial abuse happens when someone is controlling with money and assets. It’s a serious problem that can happen to anyone at any age, regardless of your wealth, ethnic background, gender, age or ability. 


It can manifest as economic control – like a carer denying a person access to their money, or a spouse making financial decisions for their partner without consulting them. Or it can be through financial exploitation, such as an independent adult child moving in with an elderly parent and not contributing to living costs.

Financial abuse is surprisingly common, yet it can be hard to recognise. Often it starts with the small things.

Things to look out for


Financial abuse can be hard to recognise, because you might not be aware that it’s happening. It might include someone:


  • Excluding you from financial decision-making, or from having access to information about your money (such as bank statements)
  • Shaming you or criticising your lack of financial literacy
  • Using your accounts for unusual or unexplained transactions 
  • Intimidating, controlling or scaring you 
  • Attempting to socially isolate you
  • Taking out loans or running up debts in your name, or pressuring you to become the guarantor on a loan
  • Trying to prevent you from earning your own money, such as getting or keeping a job 
  • Taking or selling your possessions without permission
  • Forcing or pressuring you to sign a document that gives someone else control of your money, property or financial decisions
  • Coercing you to change your Will or to transfer your property titles to them
  • Asking you to sign documents related to your assets, where there is a financial benefit for that person
  • Pressuring you to sign documents, such as loans, mortgages, credit cards, debit cards, Centrelink claims and phone contracts.


Craig Day, Executive Manager of Technical Services at Colonial First State, cites an example where a financial adviser’s clients mentioned that their son had started a new business and wanted them to be guarantors for his business loan.


“This would have loaded up a huge level of debt on their house,” he said. “The adviser's understanding of his clients’ son made him concerned that in around 12 months, they wouldn't have a house anymore.” 

Times of increased vulnerability


Certain life events heighten your vulnerability to financial abuse. The end of a relationship, when emotions are heightened, can lead to one or both partners committing financial abuse. Another difficult period is a death in a blended family if the estate planning is inadequate.


Craig Day explains that a loss of capacity is another vulnerable time – particularly when an enduring power of attorney is involved. 


“People are living longer, while the next generation may be experiencing debt and financial strain,” he said. “So when their elderly parents start to lose capacity and hand over control of things, that’s where the abuse often begins.” 


While guardians are legally obliged to act in the principal’s best interests¹,  they could make decisions in their own best interests instead. “The son or daughter may decide to pull mum or dad's super out of the super system while they’re still alive because they’re over 60 so it’s tax free, whereas leaving it in there until they die means they will have to pay tax on the taxable component,” said Craig. 

Taking financial advantage 


It’s important to recognise that financial abuse isn’t always intentional or malicious. The person causing the harm may not be aware that what they’re doing is considered financial abuse. There is increased risk of financial abuse when:

  • A person feels they have a right to your property or possessions 
  • A family member is held in fear
  • A family member has a drug or alcohol problem 
  • You aren’t aware of your rights and entitlements 
  • Your capacity has diminished 
  • You depend on a family member for care



Where to go for help


If reading this article has raised questions for you, you can contact: 

  • Your financial adviser 
  • A state or territory-run domestic violence services or elder abuse hotline
  • 1800 Respect National Helpline (domestic and family violence counselling and information) on 1800 737 732 and the 1800 Respect website.


You can also report enduring power of attorney abuse to your state or territory guardianship tribunal or public advocate.


¹Australian Law Reform Commission, Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response (ALRCE Report 131), 8 June 2017


*Colonial First State is not affiliated with any of the third-party providers listed in this article and does not endorse the use of any of the mentioned services or products. Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (Colonial First State) is the issuer of super, pension and investment products. This document may include general advice but does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) carefully, assess whether the information is appropriate for you, and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision. The PDS and FSG can be obtained from or by calling us on 13 13 36.