a street scene

How to stay legal

The UK legal system around sex work is a minefield and can be confusing. This section aims to explain as clearly as possible how to stay legal when working. We will provide you with information about the law regarding street work, agencies, brothels, pimping and working flats. If you have a complicated matter then please consult a solicitor or give us a call to chat about your situation. 

Exchanging or participating in sexual activities for money or other goods has always been legal in the UK.But remember, many of the activities that surround prostitution are illegal.

Working alone indoors, for an agency or in a brothel
All are legal. Provided you (the worker) are at least 18 and have not been coerced or deceived into providing the service. Buying sex or sexual services from you is also legal.

'Pimping' - running an agency or brothel
All are illegal as they could be controlling people for gain (money). 
Controlling another adult for financial gain is illegal. 
Indirectly gaining from someone else working is now legal - it is the control for gain that's illegal - carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
So sex workers' families are now free from the risk of being charged with ‘living on the earnings of prostitution’.

It is illegal to own or run a 'disorderly house' or brothel – anywhere where more than one person has sex outside of marriage. This means that a maid taking bookings for sex workers or a cleaner washing sheets are both acting illegally. 
It is legal to work as a sex worker in a brothel just as long as you’re not involved in the running or management of the premises.

It is illegal to pay for otherwise legal sex with someone who is 16 or 17. 
Controlling someone under the age of 18 for sex work is a more serious offence – no element of gain is necessary and the penalty is up to 14 years in prison.

Street work
The laws on working on the street are 'gender neutral'. Anyone, male, female or trans on the street (or on a balcony or in a window) can be found guilty of soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 changed the definition of soliciting – it is now an offence to: ‘Persistently loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purposes of offering services as a prostitute’, with 'persistently' defined as at least twice in any period of three months. 

Our advice  

  • If you are going on tour to different countries (in the UK and abroad), don’t forget to check the law in that country before starting to work – Scotland, for example, has different laws around sex work than England.
  • If you are on tour within the UK make sure you sign up to National Ugly Mugs in the area where you’re travelling.
  • Whatever your set-up, police involvement is more likely where there are under age or illegal migrant workers, or where there is drug dealing, money laundering, violence or 'exotic' services such as bondage or S&M, on the premises. Be mindful that these activities might encourage police interest.

Last review: 25/09/2014

Next review: 25/09/2017