Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton responds to the Low Pay Commission's 2021 report


This week, the Low Pay Commission (LPC) published its 2021 report. As part of its remit for 2021, the LPC gathered evidence on the application of the live-in domestic worker exemption to minimum wage entitlements. This exemption was introduced in 1999 as part of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) regulations, intended to facilitate au pair arrangements.

As detailed in the report, the LPC found that the exemption is being abused not only in the case of au pairs, but also for live in workers, particularly those on Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visas. As well as cases of modern slavery, the LPC also identified far greater numbers of workers suffering lower, but nevertheless persistent levels of exploitation. In many cases, the exemption is being used by employers to justify paying less than minimum wage.

The LPC is recommending that the current exemption for live-in domestic workers should be removed. In the case that government does not repeal it, introducing instead a visa route for au pairs, the LPC recommends that the exemption is amended to give more legal clarity. It should clearly define the role for au pairs and the scope of  their duties, and explicitly state that it cannot be relied upon by those employing workers on ODW visas.


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

Hidden from public view and highly dependent on their employers, domestic workers can suffer egregious abuses. Women, who make up the vast majority of domestic workers, will be disproportionately affected by the exploitation of this exemption.

“While initially intended to facilitate arrangements for au pairs coming to the UK, the LPC has highlighted how the exemption is currently providing a legal loophole for some of the most unscrupulous and exploitative employers.

“A few weeks ago, I met with four victims of domestic servitude that had escaped from exploitation in private homes in London.  Frequently hungry, subject to physical and sexual abuse and utterly exhausted by long hours and severe restrictions on their freedom, they were clearly victims of crime. 

“I am supportive of the LPC’s recommendation.  Ending any doubt that live-in domestic workers should be paid the minimum wage could protect thousands from more serious exploitation."


Read the full report here.