At Starling, we want to give people total control over their finances, which is why we enable customers to block payment references from those using them to send abusive or upsetting messages. We are the first UK bank to introduce this capability, for recipients of Faster Payments (a common way of making bank transfers). We’ve named our new feature 'Hide references'.

Payment references usually describe the nature of the payment being made, whether that’s ‘Rent’, ‘Mum’s birthday gift’, ‘Dinner’ or ‘Drinks’. But in the case of economic abuse (see below), payment references can be used to inflict emotional or psychological harm on the recipient. For example, an ex-partner blocked from all other forms of contact, may use payment references to send messages such as ‘I miss you’ or ‘I still love you’ or even insults or threats. Sometimes these references accompany payments as small as one pence.

The new feature enables customers to block payment references, to protect from abuse

Economic abuse

We’ve partnered with the charity Surviving Economic Abuse to launch this feature to help victims of economic abuse, which can involve a partner taking someone’s wages, stopping them from working or intentionally putting them in debt. Economic abuse is very often accompanied by other forms of domestic abuse.

Abusive payment references are a key obstacle for economic abuse survivors to overcome.

The warning signs of economic abuse can be hard to spot. Although only 16 per cent of people recognise their experiences as abuse, the effects can be long lasting, often resulting in psychological damage, ruined credit ratings, stalled careers, loss of confidence and repossessed homes.

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca separated from her abusive partner 14 years ago. He refused to pay child maintenance and after a court battle, was ordered to pay the money he owed directly to Rebecca.

“Although the money should have been paid as a lump sum, he would pay in small instalments with payment references that would remind me of times he verbally and physically abused me.”

“The references weren’t ever flagged by the bank because to an outsider, they didn’t look abusive, but when they popped up on my phone, I would get flashbacks to his abuse. The messages were a way for him to maintain that power and control over me, showing me that even though I had left him, I would never be free from his harassment.”

“My kids and I needed the support money, but it didn’t feel worth the endless stream of abusive payment references, and I didn’t want to explain to my bank why I didn’t want to see them. The ability to hide these references with a simple tap makes all the difference and I am so pleased that Starling has done this.”

The person you block will not know their reference messages are being hidden

Lauren Garrett, Financial Services Manager at Surviving Economic Abuse said: “We’re pleased to be working with Starling on this new feature and commend them for sharing what they are doing to give survivors the power to choose what payment references they see, without having to relive traumatising experiences to customer services. This small in-app feature will make a huge difference to survivors’ ability to bank safely.”

To use Hide references, swipe up from the app home screen to pull up the transaction feed. Then tap on the payment you’ve received with an unwanted reference. From there you can tap the Hide icon, which will hide references from past or future payments made from that account.

If you do use Hide references, it will not prevent the money from landing in your account, you will simply not see any payment references that come from the sending account.

If you or someone you know is experiencing economic abuse, our Specialist support team is here to do what they can to help. Find out more information about our services or explore these resources from Surviving Economic Abuse.

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