Sky TV: new telephone number for domestic abuse survivors
Two weeks ago I wrote about the setting up of a domestic abuse centre near the London 2012 Olympic Stadium in response to figures that show that domestic abuse increases around major sporting events.
As a result of this story I began to think about what happens to the brave women* who manage to get away from their abusive situations. For instance, how do they cope with the financial disentanglement, particularly when they choose to remain in their homes rather than fleeing to other accommodation?
I contacted three women who had suffered abusive relationships and were left to pick up the financial pieces.
For Lesley**, this disentanglement included trying to take over an existing Sky TV subscription, which had been in her ex-partner’s name, although she had paid the bills. Moreover, she owned the house that carried the subscription.
On contacting Sky TV to try to achieve the changeover, she was told that she could not take over the account. Her only option was to contact her ex-partner to ask him to cancel it. At this point she could then set up a new account.
On explaining that she did not wish to contact her ex-partner due to the possibility of a resumption of the abuse, she was told that she could let the account lapse and Sky would then pursue him via debt collectors for the outstanding arrears.
“Again, I was worried that this would incite his anger, so I refused to accept this option, ” Lesley explained.
For Val**, the debts were a result of her ex-partner refusing to pay his way during the relationship:
“My ex’s financial abuse was more about not wanting to pay to cover his share of childcare after school whilst I was at work and him asking for financial compensation to offset his lack of ability to save money whilst I was at home looking after our daughter when she was a baby.”
Whereas for Sue**, the impact included damage within the marital home:
“Then there is the damage to property. My kitchen is workable but doors fall off all the time, there are no tiles because he ripped the sink unit off the wall, flooded the kitchen and the tiles went with it. Doors still have punch holes in them.”
This struggle with finances is apparently only the tip of the iceberg for women who find themselves trying to sort out money after they have extracted themselves from a domestic abuse situation.
Known as financial abuse, in some cases the difficulties experienced in trying to cope financially can result in women remaining in or resuming an abusive relationship.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a significant proportion of women who return to [an abusive] relationship attribute their inability to deal with their finances as a major contributing factor. Often the abuser has all of the economic and social standing and complete control over the family finances.
This is echoed by Women’s Aid, who commented:
‘In Women’s Aid’s experience, financial abuse is a common feature of domestic abuse and many survivors face financial difficulties as a consequence. These can act as a barrier to making the final decision to leave an abusive relationship and/or to making a fresh start after escaping from abuse.
When any victim does leave an abusive relationship, they are statistically at greater risk of harm at this point – it is crucial therefore, that service providers do not underestimate this risk and place further barriers to disengagement from the abuser.’
The financial barriers include lack of access to cash and being unable to access joint bank accounts and credit cards – a serious problem, in particular for women who have dependent children, who may well be in low paid employment, if at all. For women who flee their homes, they have the added problems of having to negotiate with the benefit system to secure somewhere to live.
The consequences, outlined in a Family Action report, are that women find it difficult to explain and persuade creditors to change the identification details on accounts. As one woman comments:
“I went into [the bank] and in the end I had to explain the circumstances and they said they could freeze it but couldn’t close it, not without both our signatures.”
Even worse, the report found that some women did not even want to attempt to explain their situation to creditors as they expected to be treated unsympathetically.
Going back to Lesley’s case and her response from Sky TV, I contacted them for a comment, and after some consideration, the press office gave the following statement:
“As a responsible business, we take our duty of care to our customers very seriously. We always aim to respond to issues of a sensitive nature with flexibility and empathy.
“Unfortunately on this occasion we accept that we could have handled this better, for which we’re sorry. We plan to publish some customer advice and guidance on our website and we would encourage any customer in similar circumstances who has a concern about their account arrangements to contact us.”
Sky TV is now to investigate Lesley’s case, but not only this, Sky TV has set up a new dedicated telephone number (see below) which will offer callers advice on a case by case basis on how to proceed if they find themselves struggling to manage their Sky TV account in the wake of a domestic abuse separation.
WVoN welcomes Sky TV’s decision to address this issue: as a multi-channel broadcaster with over 10 million subscribers we anticipate that there are many women who will find that this dedicated service will at least enable them rebuild a small part of their financial lives.
For Lesley, this is welcome news:
“Sky TV have already contacted me about my situation and I am really pleased with the outcome. I can’t tell you how good it was to have a sympathetic person on the other end of the telephone who was doing her best to help me find a solution.
“Having a dedicated telephone line for this kind of problem will make all the difference for women who are often completely traumatised by the sheer effort it takes to separate themselves from an abusive situation.”
We applaud Sky TV for taking the situation seriously: we would urge other creditors/financial institutions to do the same.
Meanwhile, women who are dealing with the consequences of domestic and financial abuse can find useful information in a guide produced by Refuge, or they can call to discuss this – and other domestic abuse related issues – on 0808 2000 247.
*this article focuses on women who have suffered domestic abuse, but we recognise that this is a situation that affects men too
**all names have been changed