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9% of freelancers worked for free in 2016

New research highlights "serious problem" of UK freelancers working for free in order to gain exposure and experience...

A rising number of UK freelancers are working for free and being expected to work for free by the companies that use them.

According to research from of 1,009 freelance works, 70% were asked to work for free in 2016 – 9% of whom obliged.

The poll found that 80% of freelancers who worked for free did so in order to gain experience, with those aged under 25 twice as likely to work for free.

Sector-wise, photographers were both the most likely to be asked to work for free (87%) and the most likely to say yes (16%).

Graphic designers were the next most likely to be asked to provide free work (85%), but only 9% agreed, while 83% of copywriters had been asked and 14% had agreed.

Freelancers in cities with a large concentration of tech, media and creative industries were the least likely to be asked and to agree to work for free, including London (63% vs. 8%), Manchester (68% vs. 7%) and Brighton (68% vs. 8%).

Freelancers in Liverpool (12%), Sheffield (11%) and Birmingham (11%) were found to be the most likely to agree to work for free.

Sir Gary Cooper CBE, professor of organisational psychology & health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, said that the research highlighted a “serious problem”:

“It’s natural for freelancers to look to build relationships with potential clients, and working on-spec is tempting when the client dangles the carrot of future commissions.

“But it rarely works out the way the freelancer expects and it can lead to a broad lowering of demand for experienced, but comparatively expensive, professionals.”

Charlotte Whelan, project manager at, said: “There’s a difference between helping out a mate or offering your time for free to a good cause or charity and being exploited by a businesses that could – and should – be offering to pay for your talent.

“Exposure and experience don't pay the bills.”

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.


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