By Sinead Cruise
LONDON, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Lloyds Banking Group LLOY.L is launching a specialist economic abuse support team with powers to help liberate thousands of vulnerable customers from financial oppression at the hands of their partners.
After campaigns to improve financial support for customers with cancer and mental ill health, Lloyds is look to people who suffer domestic abuse through the arbitrary control, exploitation or sabotage of household finances and debt.
Britain's biggest mortgage lender is training five staff members to provide a telephone hotline offering advice and guidance to at-risk customers, who will initially be referred to Lloyds by charity partners and victim refuges.
"One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic abuse in their lifetimes. When you think we have 25 million customers, and around 67,000 staff, the reason for us to address this is clear," Martin King, head of customer vulnerability at Lloyds, told Reuters.
According to a report published in June by Surviving Economic Abuse, one of the bank's charity partners, six in 10 domestic abuse survivors claim their partner had built up debt in their name, forced them to borrow money or make a purchase against their will.
The team, based in Newport, South Wales, will be trained to help customers who have been coerced into taking on personal loans or pressured into signing paperwork for joint debt such as mortgages.
The staff will also advise customers who are struggling financially because cards and documents necessary to access their money have been withheld by the dominant partner.
In the most acute cases, they will also provide critical assistance to customers who have fled abusive homes and who need to rebuild their lives from scratch.
To coincide with the launch of the telephone service, Lloyds is also changing its account terms and conditions to allow a party to be removed from a joint account where one of the account holders has been the victim of financial abuse.
The team will also have the ability to open up bank accounts without any identification or using a post office box address, under special circumstances.
The bank will also refer more complex financial abuse cases - typically where both parties are long-term Lloyds customers or hold a mortgage - to a specialist panel with powers to amend mortgage rates, divide and even cancel some problem debts.
Lloyds is hoping to have a pilot of the economic, financial and domestic abuse hotline up and running by September.
(Editing by David Evans)