Although free accommodation is a great perk to enjoy, there are other things to consider before deciding to take up a live-in role.
If you ever find yourself strolling around the grand Georgian suburbs of places like Pimlico in London be sure to look to the very top of the imposing houses to see the smallish windows at roof level. In days gone by these were far from the most desirable rooms in the building, despite their penthouse views; they were the servants’ quarters.
Live-in servants such as housekeepers, butlers and maids started to decline in numbers after the First World War with the rise in the middle classes and roles ‘in service’ are now very rare indeed. Saying that, there is still demand for live-in employees in the twenty-first century.
The idea of a live-in employee is a simple trade-off. The employee gets free accommodation and probably a package of other perks and benefits such as meals and or laundry (since they may not have facilities in their quarters). The employer gets an employee that can remain on-call literally day and night or at least somebody that because they don’t have to travel, can work unsociable shifts.
The practice of ‘living-in’ is relatively common in hotels; especially those awarded the highest star ratings since premium service is expected at all times, irrespective of when the call comes. Concierge or even simple reception services need to be available to guests when they want them, not when the hotel wants to make them available.
For the employee, the upside is a significant saving in outgoings such as rent. This is particularly so where hotels or other places of work are in expensive districts in say, big cities and especially in the Capital. (To give you an example, a one bedroom studio flat in Victoria, London, will cost north of £1,200 per month in rent.)
It’s no surprise to find that at luxury hotels such as those run by the Four Pillars group, live-in accommodation is seen as the norm with around 45% of staff living-in at the Oxford Thames and Oxford Spires hotels (because they are in affluent areas where housing is expensive).
In other areas where a hotel or restaurant is in a remote location and poorly served by public transport, it is all but essential for an employer to provide accommodation for staff.
Legally, if employers provide staff accommodation, some of its value can count towards minimum wage or is offset. The offset rate for accommodation charges is £4.91 a day or £34.37 a week. If an employer charges more than this, the difference is taken off the worker’s pay, which counts towards the minimum wage. If the charge is at or below the offset rate, the staff pay is unaffected. If the accommodation is free, the offset rate is added to the worker’s pay. It is also worth noting that live-in staff may also be expected to pay an upfront bond just as they would if they were in private rented accommodation. (This is refundable minus any charges for damage etc on vacating the accommodation.)
Other perks are usually of little consequence to the employer who, of course, in any event, has to stock the restaurant kitchens and organise the laundry. Because of economies of scale, adding the requirements of the staff is all but painless to the bottom line. Even so few employers will extend the full ‘hotel service’ to employees. They will be responsible for keeping their quarters in good order, for example – and are not part of the hotel’s housekeeping rota.
As well as not providing hotel-style services, live-in employees should be aware that staff accommodation can vary wildly between providers and can sometimes fall below expectations. Even though (utility) bills are covered it’s entirely possible that accommodation could consist of a single bedroom with shared bathroom facilities.
Living at Work
Another potential downside is that it can be difficult to genuinely ‘switch off’ from work. If you only rarely leave the premises and work unsociable hours it can add up to a very peculiar work-life equation, although it can also be fun to build up camaraderie with your fellow live-in colleagues in the same way as it is in the Services.
Live-in jobs are also a great way for staff to get to know an area before attempting to put down roots. Whilst this could be great for Service-leavers considering an area for long term resettlement, it should not be considered a realistic long term outcome in itself since companies tend to withdraw live-in options once an employee gets promoted. The simple thinking is that it would no longer be appropriate for a ‘manager’, for example, to live and work with their team.
Whilst it isn’t just hotel and catering roles that are likely to be based around live-in arrangements it is certainly the sector most likely to offer packages of this nature. It isn’t, however unique with roles in care and nursing (and childcare – such as nanny) for example, using a similar set-up. Further to that there’s the classic ‘hermit’ scenario of the lighthouse or lock keeper although these roles tend to be very rare indeed and because of their isolated nature will only attract a very few candidates.
Elsewhere, a small number of roles in the security industry will have live-in requirements as do roles such as gardener or housekeeper, usually in the heritage sector – and of course, where would a vicar be without a vicarage?
Whilst the breadth of live-in roles available is quite wide, free accommodation is perhaps a perk best viewed as a bridge between leaving the Services and full resettlement.
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