If you’re looking for casual childcare and don’t mind having someone outside of the family living in your home, then an au pair could be the perfect solution for you.

What’s the difference between a nanny and an au pair?

Unlike a nanny, who is an employee and works for a PAYE wage with all that entails (see our article on employing a nanny for further details), an au pair is considered to be a friend or extended member of the family and as such receives ‘pocket money’ of around £75/week as payment. They don’t receive holiday or sick pay and there is no contract. The au pair will live in the family home and should have their own room provided, as well as food and other provisions.

You can find the legal definition of an au pair described in detail on the gov.uk site 

Where do I find an au pair?

You might find your au pair through existing friendships or word of mouth, or you may decide to go through an agency. If that’s the case then check out the BAPAA (British Au Pairs Agencies Association) site for information about regulation of agencies etc.

Who can be an au pair?

According to au pair world an au pair in the UK can be between 17-30 years old. They need to be a foreign national, and will spend some of their stay learning English or becoming familiar with British culture.

What sort of work can an au pair do?

An au pair will generally work for about 30 hours a week doing generally household duties which may include a couple of evenings baby-sitting each week. However as they are generally not trained childcare professionals, according to BAPAA they shouldn’t have sole charge of a child for a whole day except under exceptional circumstances.

You can ask your au pair to do light housekeeping work such as cleaning, ironing and washing up.

Au pairs will often accompany their host family on holiday to help look after the children while they are away.

It’s really important that you allow your au pair to have enough time to complete any studies they are following, and you should encourage them to socialise with other people their own age locally – including other au pairs.

What are the pros of using an au pair?

There are many advantages to using an au pair, for example exposing your child to a new language and culture and having an extra pair of hands to help around the house. The cost of an au pair is considerably cheaper than any kind of childcare and because they are living with the family, if you ask your au pair to babysit then you’ll be leaving your child with someone they are already familiar with.

What are the cons of using an au pair?

Before taking the plunge and taking on an au pair, it’s important to consider all the factors. For example you’ll need to have the space to give them their own room, and having an extra person in the house using the shower and the kettle at high pressure times might tip things over the balance.

You need to bear in mind that this is a young person with no particular childcare qualifications and weigh up how much childcare you’ll be happy asking them to do.

Unless they are OFSTED registered, which is unlikely, you won’t be able to put childcare vouchers towards their payment, and there will be other associated costs such as food, travel and trips.

Communication might be a challenge if their English isn’t fluent, and you may need to work hard to make them feel properly welcome and establish ground-rules. You should also make time to show them around your local area so that they can start to feel at home.

Finally, you won’t have a contract with the au pair, as they are not an employee. So if things aren’t working out then they may decide to leave at any time without notice. Conversely, if you want them to leave then you may have a difficulty making that happen.

Overall, taking on an au pair is an attractive form of casual childcare, but one that is definitely worth thinking through properly before you take any action.