An Au Pair is a young person, usually 18-20 years old, sometimes older, who lives with a family in another country for 6 months to 1 year. The Au Pair Programme has existed for a few decades and is a Cultural Exchange scheme based around childcare. This means that the Au Pair will live with the family as part of the family and is not ’employed’ ie. the Au Pair Program is not a ‘Job’.
The family benefits because the Au Pair is live-in and flexible. She/he will help with the children and with light household chores for about 25 hours (30 max) per week which can include babysitting.
The Au Pair benefits from the exciting experience of living in a foreign country, learning the language and the culture of that country and is also provided with pocket money of usually £90-£100 per week. Additionally, most Au Pairs love spending time with children!
An Au Pair must be treated and welcomed as one of the family – this is also the way that you will benefit most from your Au Pair.
Although usually female there are also an increasing number of great male Au Pairs.
The Au Pair is expected to help with a degree of household chores which could include some (but not all!) of the following:
- Vacuum cleaning
- Putting the washing on
- Drying laundry
- Folding & putting laundry away
- Loading/Unloading the dishwasher
- Helping to keep kitchen clean & tidy, including sweeping & mopping floors
- Helping to keep bathrooms clean
- Tidying children’s rooms and communal areas of house
- Preparing light meals for the children
- Small grocery shopping
- Ironing for children
- Emptying bins
They should NOT be given heavy duty tasks or asked to Spring Clean.
The Au Pair should not be the only one in the household to undertake these tasks. Chores should be shared between Au Pair and Family (or other domestic help like a cleaner).
The Au Pair should be supporting you with childcare, more than helping with any housework. The housework element of their tasks is usually no more than 20%.
The Au Pair must be given enough time to attend a language course (normally a couple of hours a 1-2 mornings per week in term time). Remember that au pairs are learning English and are not yet fluent in English! You might find the British Council’s guide on English levels helpful.
Heavenly requires its host families to contributes at least £20 per month towards language school costs or equivalent benefits (eg. travel card).
We also require host families to reward their au pair a ‘completion bonus’, equivalent to at least 1 week’s pocket money on completion of their agreed length of stay with the family (for placements of 6 months or more). Heavenly recommends increasing this to 2 weeks for stays of 12 months. This completion bonus should be agreed in advance. This is to help the au pair finance their return travel. For Australian au pairs and New Zealand au pairs a higher contribution may be required.
Our Heavenly au pairs are not permitted to have any sole care of a babies/toddlers under the age of 3 years. For children aged 2-3 yrs ad hoc and limited babysitting may be possible for evenings, once the little one is asleep and only when the au pair is fully trained up and accepts this responsibility. Furthermore, au pairs are not to have regular sole care of pre-school aged children, as they simply do not have training or experience to do this safely. If you require this then you should engage a Nanny. Please visit our Nanny page for more details about our Heavenly Nannies & Junior Nannies.
A basic outline of duties, hours and conditions should be agreed to before the Au Pair arrives. This should be set out in the initial Letter of Invitation – this is the means by which you offer your Au Pair the position, and is drafted for you by the Heavenly Team.
Any subsequent changes to the agreed duties, hours and conditions must be agreed to by both parties.
An Au Pair should be given a 4 weeks’ paid holiday per year (1.66 days per month) plus all UK bank holidays. You can offer your Au Pair further holidays paid or unpaid. The Au Pair should be given sufficient time to be able to return home on visits.
An Au Pair should be paid a minimum weekly pocket money of £80 and more for 30 hrs. Heavenly’s native English speaking au pairs normally receive a higher pocket money.
An Au Pair must be given a private room to themselves. This must be clean, comfortable and include a window (!). You should provide them with a good bed, chair & desk and somewhere for them to store their clothes and other belongings. A television is common and a Wifi connection essential!
An Au Pair can sometimes work 1 day at the weekend (by prior agreement) but they must be compensated by being given a day off during the week.
If an Au Pair is keen on animals they might enjoy spending a little time caring for your pets; cat feeding, dog walking, exercising your horses (if they ride) otherwise please do not force your pets upon them as in many other cultures families do not live so closely with animals. Also, many young women are quite afraid of large dogs, in particular.
The Au Pair should be invited to join the family in some leisure activities, particularly birthdays and other family events.
The Au Pair should share meals with the family and generally be treated as a family member, otherwise he / she is likely to be regarded as an employee in the eyes of HRMC and subject to National Minimum Wage regulations.
The Au Pair should be prepared to pay for their own travel costs (outward and return), although some families offer to help with the cost, or help to pay for their travel back home again, particularly for candidates from less affluent countries or longer distance
The host family must collect the Au Pair from the airport when he/she first arrives. If this is absolutely not possible then the family must arrange and pay for the au pair’s collection from their arrival terminal.
Although an Au Pair is enthusiastic & energetic, has usually at least helped in their own homes and has some experience with children, it is important to remember is that an Au Pair is neither a nanny nor a cleaner and they are young and still inexperienced. Make sure your own expectations are not too high. Having too high an expectation is the most common reason for a placement not working out. It is important to understand the limitations of ‘au pairs’ and understand that they do not come ‘pre-programmed’ for the position. You are almost starting with a ‘blank slate’; someone who is willing and enthusiastic but needs time (weeks/ month+) to be shown how you want them to help. If you need experienced help, or people with training we have many other categories of candidate which would suit you better. Get in touch to find out more about our Heavenly Nannies, Junior Nannies, Mother’s Helps and Nanny Housekeepers.
Please be aware that Heavenly au pairs cannot be placed into families where the children have food allergies. This is for Health and Safety reasons to bilaterally protect the host family’s children and the au pair themselves.
An Average Au Pair day
The Au Pair will work the hours you agree with them, but in an average family, the Au Pair might work for 1 hour in the morning, helping to get the children ready for, and maybe taking them to, school/nursery. Then 4 or 5 hours in the afternoon. The Au Pair must be given the possibility of attending an English course, otherwise they will not be seen as an au pair but more of an employee.
- 8.00 – 9.00 Get children ready, take them to school.
- 9.30 – 11.30 Au Pair attends language school (they can usually attend different hours if it fits in better with your schedule).
- 11.30 – 3.30 Au Pair goes out with friends or spends time on homework, or on computer usually in her/his room.
- 3.30 – 7.00 Collects children from school, takes them to any activities, prepares light meal for children, supervises homework.
- From 7.30 If not babysitting, will often go out with friends, do homework or just relax in their room or with the family.
(please note there are many variations, this is a very basic example)
Although you must ensure your Au Pair feels part of your family, do not be surprised and certainly not offended if they choose to spend much of their ‘off duty’ time in their own room or out with friends. This is very normal – they would be doing the same thing in their own homes. Just as long as they are happy – and you are too!
What’s the difference between an Au Pair & a Nanny?
An Au Pair is always foreign, is usually under 25 yrs old (most commonly 18-20 yrs), has some experience with children but is unqualified and untrained in childcare. They live with you as part of the family. Whereas a Nanny is more likely to be a resident of the UK and often a Native English speaker. Nannies are either trained and/or qualified in childcare or have a good amount of experience. A nanny is your Employee (with according rights and benefits).
An Au Pair works 25-30 hours per week (over 5 days) and can help out with babysitting (1-2 nights during the week), for £90 -£100 pocket money per week.
A Mother’s Help works 30-45 hours per week and earns £150 – £350 depending on hours, experience, the position (younger or several children needs to be paid more). Mother’s Helps are either more experienced/ older than an au pair or someone who is happy to work more than 30 hours per week – or both! Mother’s Helps are still considered to be on a cultural exchange, though you may need to pay tax and NI contributions and adhere to employment law. See more about this below. At lower levels this is not very much. The Agency can provide details of current Tax etc. tables to help you calculate total costs and provides detailed employment contracts, or we can put you in touch with a very good nanny payroll company.
A Nanny is someone who is specially trained and has childcare qualifications, or someone with a very significant amount of childcare experience. Nannies are employees of the family and often live out, but can also live in. Nannies look after your children, their washing and bedrooms and prepare their meals, but do not usually help generally in the household. They can look after children of any age sole charge and work either full or part time. They charge from ca. £13-15 gross per hour. You will need to pay tax and NI contributions and adhere to employment law. See more on our Nannies page.
A Junior Nanny is an employee and someone with more experience than a Mother’s Help, but not as much as a Nanny. They might work part-time or full time and can either live in or out.
Heavenly Au Pairs & Nannies also has Companions to the Elderly. An Elderly Companion is someone who is not always specially trained or qualified to care for elderly people but will often have gained experience with elderly people, from having looked after their own grandparents or ageing parents. They live-in and provide huge comfort & security to both the elderly person/persons and to their families that someone capable and able bodied is at hand in case of any problems/emergencies. In addition to this the Companion will help with the housework & washing, cook simple meals, help care for pets, help with the shopping or other errands. Our Companions work 30-60 hrs per week and come from countries within the EU, which means they are allowed to live and work in the UK without restrictions. Please get in touch for more details https://www.heavenlyaupairs.com/contact-us/ or see our Elderly Companion/ Home Help page or more information.
Housekeepers; if you require general housework, cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing then a housekeeper could be the right candidate for you. Also for those families who think they need an au pair, but where the housework duties outweigh the childcare duties a housekeeper is necessary. Housekeepers can of course work for busy households where there are no children, or at least no young children. Weekly pay will depend on the hours and duties, but it is usually around £250- £450 pw for live-in. Click here for more information about Heavenly’s Housekeepers.
Tax, Minimum Wage etc.
We are not specialists in this area and cannot advise, but many people ask us about the Minimum Wage, Tax, NI contributions and Employment regulations relating to Au Pairs. Having talked to Acas and HMRC we understand that if you treat your Au Pair like an Au Pair as per our lengthy description ‘what is an Au Pair’ at the top of this page and fundamentally as a part of your family, invited to share meals with you as a family member and who is here on a cultural exchange, and you pay them the normal amount of pocket money per week (see above) then they are exempt from the minimum wage, tax, NI contributions and employment regulations. Here you can find more information about National Minimum Wage legislation exceptions .
Many of our families feel uncomfortable about opening themselves up as a family and may prefer to engage an employee (mother’s help or Nanny categories) That is fine but it is not possible to engage someone as an Au Pair, and pay them as an Au Pair but not treat them as a family member and treat them like an employee.
For many of our lesser experienced employee candidates you will not to pay much National Insurance contribution or tax, if any.
Everyone’s situation is slightly different however, so we advise you to speak to HMRC yourself to determine whether your ‘Au Pair’ is actually more of an Employee to you. The following link might help – Au Pairs: Employment Law