Domestic servitude is a form of modern slavery affecting men, women and children of all ages. This kind of slavery sees victims forced to work in private households, performing a variety of roles such as housekeepers, maids, servants, nannies, carers and cooks, among others. 

Working conditions are tough and exploitative, with no days off and extremely long working hours with little or no pay. In addition to this, workers are often subject to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Living conditions can be extremely poor and offer no privacy, with workers sleeping on floors in open areas of the house.

Many victims of domestic slavery are children, often brought to the UK with the promise of a quality education. Other adult victims enter the country legally and willingly with their employers, only to find on arrival that they are subjected to abuse and exploitation. Living conditions can be extremely poor and offer little or no privacy, with workers sleeping on floors in open areas of the house.

Victims of domestic servitude often speak limited English, have their passports confiscated by their employers, and are not permitted to leave the house without accompaniment. This makes them highly dependent on their employers and largely unable to seek help. 

This form of slavery can be extremely difficult to spot, as it happens behind closed doors in private homes - however, there are signs to look out for that could suggest an instance of domestic servitude:

  • Rarely alone: Do they leave the house often? When they do, are they rarely unaccompanied? Do they usually allow others to speak for them, even if spoken to directly?

  • Difficulty communicating: Is the person a foreign national living with a family, perhaps as a domestic worker or nanny? Do they have trouble communicating in English?

  • Isolation: Does the person appear to have contact with family or friends? Are they able to speak freely with others?

  • Lacking important personal documents: Is the person in possession of their own travel documents, or are they being kept by their employer?

  • Signs of emotional or physical abuse: Is the person showing signs of abuse, trauma or malnourishment?

If you have spotted some or all of these signs and have concerns, please contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 012 1700.