Some au pairs are just 18, have limited English and no training in elderly care or first aid.
Many are expected to act as a “companion” to the elderly, while also running errands, helping around the house, shopping and cooking.
Care groups are calling on the Government to regulate the use of young women, mainly from Europe, for casual arrangements that would seem to leave both parties open to abuse.
A lack of medical training has caused concern that they are being asked to do more than their experience allows.
Hilary Perry, director of Just Au Pairs in Middlesex, said:
“I’ve had quite a few requests from families who said they wanted an au pair or a student to live with an elderly relative.
“When I investigated further, it seemed what they wanted was cheap nursing care which none of the girls were qualified to do.”
People can come over here and live while providing a helping hand
Emily Holzhausen, from Carers UK
Many agencies are careful to take out stringent checks on their au pairs but there is no legal obligation for them to do so.
Emily Holzhausen, from Carers UK, said: “We feel this is something the Government needs to keep an eye on to ensure the protection of everyone involved.
“Whatever you say about the care sector, it is regulated and, even though we see examples of abuse, there are very clear rules. As an overall model there are definite advantages of having au pairs for the elderly.
“People can come over here and live while providing a helping hand, but it is no substitute for a good, well-invested care system.”
The use of live-in help is commonplace in Spain and Greece but has now become popular with the “squeezed middle” in Britain.
Currently, pensioners with assets over £23,000 have to pay the cost of their own care, meaning tens of thousands are forced to sell their homes.
Even those who qualify for support have to demonstrate a requirement for a “substantial” level of care before they qualify for support.
Leana Fredricksson, 31, from London, found there was no support for her grandfather Sven, 75, after his wife died.
She employed Alina Coldia, 24, from Romania, to help with shopping, cooking and cleaning.
Leana said: “My grandfather was a surgeon and moved here from Sweden to work. After my grandmother died, it was clear he needed help, but I work and our family lives in Sweden.
“The only other option was to pay someone to come in, which would have been very expensive. A friend told me that I should get an au pair to help and I thought it was the perfect solution.”
The demand for au pairs is not surprising considering some private carers charge up to £140 a day. By contrast, au pairs receive around £3.60 an hour “pocket money” on top of room and board.
Sara Vestin, of Peek a Boo Au Pairs, said she recruited more than 100 helpers for elderly hosts in the past year. She said: “Roughly 25 per cent of the girls we place are either carers or companions for the elderly. It is cheaper and allows people to stay in their own homes.”
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