Living off immoral earnings

What are immoral earnings?

The word immoral, loosely translated, means not within society’s standards of honest, moral and acceptable behaviour – therefore morally wrong. The main way of earning money in an immoral manner is through prostitution (having sex in exchange for money).


Working as an escort or a private prostitute is currently legal in some situations in the UK. However, under the s 1(1) of the Street Offences Act 1959 (as amended by s 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009), it is offence for a man or woman persistently to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purposes of offering services as a prostitute.

Prostitute is defined in s 51(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA 2003), as: “A person (A) who, on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to A or a third person.”

Conduct is persistent if it takes place on two or more occasions in any period of three months. To demonstrate “persistence”, two officers would need to witness the activity and administer the non statutory “prostitutes caution”. This caution differs from ordinary police cautions in that the behaviour leading to a caution may not itself be evidence of a criminal offence and there is no requirement for a person to admit guilt before being given a prostitutes caution.

Prostitution: advertising

Under s 46(1) of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 a person commits an offence if:

  • s/he places on, or in the immediate vicinity of, a public telephone an advertisement relating to prostitution; and
  • s/he does so with the intention that the advertisement should come to the attention of any other person or persons.

Causing, inciting and controlling prostitution for gain

Under s 52 of SOA 2003, a person commits an offence if:

  • s/he intentionally causes or incites another person (male or female) to become a prostitute in any part of the world; and
  • s/he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or third party.

Section 52 is breached when someone is caused or incited in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to become a prostitute either in that jurisdiction or elsewhere in the UK or overseas.
Under s 53(1) of SOA 2003, a person commits an offence if:

  • s/he intentionally controls any of the activities of another person relating to that person’s prostitution in any part of the world; and
  • s/he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or a third party

“Gain” is defined in s 54(1) as: any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount; or the goodwill of any person which is or appears likely, in time, to bring financial advantage.

On summary conviction for these offences, a person is liable to imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine. On conviction on indictment a person is faces jail for up to seven years.

Keeping a brothel

Under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (SOA 1956) it is a summary offence:

  • to keep a brothel (s 33);
  • for a landlord to let premises for use as a brothel (s 34);
  • for a tenant to permit premises to be used as a brothel (s 35);
  • for a tenant to permit premises to be used for prostitution (s 36).

Section 33A of SOA 1956 (as amended) creates an either way offence of keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of a brothel to which people resort for practises involving prostitution.

A brothel is defined as “a place where people of opposite sexes are allowed to resort for illicit intercourse, whether the women are common prostitutes or not”. A brothel exists wherever more than one woman offers sexual intercourse, whether for payment or not.

Under s 6 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, “premises which are resorted to for the purposes of lewd homosexual practices shall be treated as a brothel”.
It is not illegal to sell sex at a brothel provided the sex worker is not involved in management or control of the brothel. A house occupied by one woman and used by her alone for prostitution, is not a brothel (Gorman v Standen, Palace Clarke v Standen (1964) 48 Cr App R 30).

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.