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The true cost of employing a cleaner

We tender for a lot of business, both commercial office cleaning and domestic and one common thread that obviously comes up is cost.

We frequently get comments like "we used to have a lady come in and we paid her £7 an hour in cash" or "company x can do it for £10 an hour"

Let's just run through the maths.

The minimum wage for people over 25 is currently £7.20 per hour, rising to £7.65 per hour in April. Although we could employee people under 25 and save a few quid, it is, of course, illegal to discriminate on age plus we very rarely get applications from people under 25 to work in commercial cleaning, let alone house cleaning plus many of our domestic cleaning customers are not comfortable having a teenage lad cleaning their house. We pay more than the minimum wage in an attempt to retain decent cleaners, as no-one likes seeing a different cleaner every month and, it is a fact of this industry that there is always another house or office cleaning job round the corner and cleaners can quite easily walk out of one on Friday and into another one on Monday.

Some domestic cleaning companies employ house cleaners on a "self-employed" basis, meaning the cleaner gets paid, typically around £7.50 - £8 an hour and it up to the cleaner to ensure they declare this as income, pay the necessary tax and national insurance, if appropriate, and advise the relevant people if it affects any benefits they may be claiming. Whilst I am sure they have an argument for this, it seems only one step away from "cash in hand" and means the cleaning company has very little "skin in the game". There is also a question of insurance if the cleaner is not directly employed by the company. All our cleaners are employed and therefore fully insured by us. Insurance alone costs around £4 per employee per week.

We bring all our own equipment, materials and products, our cleaners typically carry a large roll on holdall of products as well as vacuums, steam cleaners, mops etc. Cloths, mops, vacuum bags, all need to be replaced and cleaning products replenished, all of this costs money, our estimate is around £1 - £1.50 per hour depending on the nature of the cleaning involved. We have heard of domestic cleaning companies that provide a house cleaner but they use all your own products to clean your house. Another one we are getting more frequently, both from customers and from cleaners, is that they have worked with cleaning companies that were, in the absence of a better word, quite "stingy" with their cleaning materials and equipment, with cleaners having to scrub away or being unable to do a decent job because the products were of poor quality or simply not being replaced and / or having to work with broken or unsuitable equipment. We employed a cleaner recently that had previously been asked to use a ride on floor buffing machine to clean a small office in Solihull, which meant spending half of the time clearing the area before she could start work.

There is then the thorny question of hours. We've been asked to do a 2hr per night job in 1hr, as have a number of our cleaners working at other companies. We had one request for 3/4hr per night, 6d a week, which would mean a cleaner earning a little over £5 a day, before they take their travel costs out. We will always quote for what we realistically think it will take to do a top quality job, if a customer requires less than this we would either agree a reduced scope of works or respectfully decline to quote as we find doing less than the best leads to demotivated cleaners and customer complaints.

Finally, there is the cost of overseeing and administering the business. No, it doesn't take very long for us to copy last months invoice, change a few numbers and email it across. It does cost to provide decent supervision to our cleaners and account management to our customers. All in all, this means there is floor below which we cannot go, obviously this will be different for a commercial contract where we have a couple of cleaners in for 2hrs a night than a house clean for 2hrs a fortnight. We will never become millionaires doing this but if we can continue to provide a good quality service to our domestic and commercial cleaning customers and employment for our cleaners we will be happy!

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