The Ethics of Hiring a Cleaner in Norwich

We take an in depth look at the ethical considerations of hiring a cleaner in Norwich

Portrait of Clear Interiors of Norwich Owner Jane

Here at Clear Interiors, we have always run our business in an ethical, legal way to the best of our ability, which is no mean feat in an industry that largely operates in the black market and gig economy. Sadly, less ethical competitors dominate the market, driving down prices and standards, which in turn, understandably affects what customers expect to pay for their cleaning service.

In this blog post, we aim to raise awareness about what’s happening in the cleaning industry right now. Norwich has a great culture of supporting local, independent and ethical businesses, so we want to empower you to make informed choices when hiring a domestic cleaner.

Different types of cleaning company

There are a number of different types of cleaning company that you can hire to clean your home. They work to different standards when it comes to staff. Below are some examples of how these types of company will typically work. Note that there are always exceptions and there will be businesses who operate slightly differently.

  1. Cleaning companies who employ their staff, paying them the national living wage as set out by the Living Wage Foundation, guaranteeing a set number of hours each week.
  2. Cleaning companies who employ their staff, paying at least the minimum wage, guaranteeing a set number of hours each week.
  3. Cleaning companies who employ their staff, paying at least the minimum wage, on a zero hours contract with no guarantee of hours each week.
  4. Cleaning agencies whose workers are self-employed, they should receive at least the minimum wage, but have no guaranteed hours.
  5. Lone, self-employed cleaners, who will be sole traders, managing all aspects of their service, essentially acting as a business with themselves as the only worker. They can set their own wage, and only have the hours that they find for themselves.

Let’s take a deeper look at each type of company…

Companies who employ staff and guarantee hours

These are the gold standard of cleaning company in terms of workers rights and ethics, offering secure employment and fair pay. As far as we know, there are now no cleaning companies like this in Norwich.

Staff at a company like this will get:

  • Holiday pay
  • Sick pay
  • A pension if they are earning above the threshold required for auto-enrolment as a minimum
  • At least the minimum wage
  • Pay for their travel time between jobs
  • Pay for any time spent training, at meetings, or revisiting a job to carry out a reclean
  • At least a set number of hours paid for each week, allowing them to budget with confidence
  • Mileage paid for using their car for work, or be supplied with a company car
  • All uniform, kit and equipment provided

Companies who employ staff, but don’t guarantee hours

This is the category that we fall under at Clear Interiors. We would love to go back to providing guaranteed hours as we used to, but under current circumstances, it’s simply not possible. There are still a few of the bigger franchises who tend to operate in this way.

Staff should get:

  • Holiday pay
  • Sick pay
  • A pension if they are earning above the threshold required for auto-enrolment
  • At least the minimum wage
  • Pay for their travel time between jobs
  • Pay for any time spent training, in meetings, or revisiting a job to carry out a reclean
  • Mileage paid for using their car for work, or be supplied with a company car
  • All uniform, kit and equipment provided

Cleaning agencies

There are quite a number of cleaning agencies operating in and around Norwich. This is the most common business model for cleaning companies if you don’t include lone, self-employed cleaners. Typically these services will quote you for an hourly price for a cleaner, plus a fee that the agency take. Here you have to be careful you are getting a clear idea of price as the agency fee is often added on top of what sounds like a cheap hourly rate.

Staff at agencies are generally not employed. They are self-employed workers.

Typically, agency workers will get:

  • A uniform provided, but staff may also need to pay for this themselves
  • At least the minimum wage paid for the hours spent cleaning in properties, not including recleans/meetings/training

Lone, self-employed cleaners

This category makes up a huge number of people working as cleaners in the UK. They will be, or should be, registered as self-employed with HMRC and act as sole traders. They are basically a business with one person doing all aspects of the service, including the admin, accounts, marketing, buying kit and equipment, etc.

They aren’t guaranteed anything and will only get what they ask for from their customers.

Extra considerations

Without making this post extremely long, a few other considerations that are relevant to this topic are:

  • We are currently seeing annual increases to the national minimum wage year on year. We fully support this, but it does put upward pressure on prices, especially for those companies who cover the cost of travel time, holiday pay, etc.
  • We will be seeing annual increases to pension contributions with regards to the auto-enrolment scheme rolled out by the government in recent years. Again, this puts up costs for companies that employ their staff. Self-employed cleaners who work alone or for agencies are not entitled to a pension, and therefore their costs will be cheaper.

What can I do?

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the different types of cleaning companies and services on offer. There are many, many more issues and points to be made on this topic and it’s something I intend to write more about in the future, but this is a decent overview of the basics!

So now we’ve covered those basics, what can you do, when choosing your domestic cleaning service? Here are a few tips to help you make an ethical choice:

  1. Ensure you can pay by cheque or bank transfer. Avoid paying cash where possible as there is no guarantee that appropriate taxes and VAT will be paid on cash payments. This will help to reduce the amount of business conducted on the black market and, as we know, paying appropriate taxes helps to ensure our public services are paid for and keeps Norwich as the wonderful city it is!
  2. Ask any potential cleaners or companies how they employ their staff. Check what their hourly rates of pay are, if they are paid holiday, travel time, sick pay. Are they entitled to a pension? If they are self-employed, try to find out if all their working time, on average means they get paid at least the minimum wage after any costs like uniform, kit, equipment, etc. This should include travel time between jobs, time spent training, attending meetings or recleans.
  3. Does the total cost of your clean come to at least £19 per hour, per cleaner? As a rough guide, this is the kind of price you should be looking at to ensure staff are being paid fairly, able to cover any costs they personally have, to afford time off if they are self-employed, or to be able to be paid holiday pay if they are employed, etc. It is also a good indicator that this company is paying all the right taxes.
  4. Choose companies where staff are employed, over self-employed where possible. Staff who are employed have more rights and the employer faces more obligations towards their staff. They will have greater job security.
  5. Check whether staff are paid less based on their age. The government has introduced a lower minimum wage for people aged under 25. Whilst it is therefore legal to pay someone less based on their age, paying in this way indicates that a company is trying to pay the bare minimum to staff and doesn’t suggest best practices are being followed.
  6. Ask to see insurance documents. This will let you know, especially with lone, self-employed cleaners, that they are meeting some basic standards for their own and your security.
  7. Request receipts or invoices! Getting a receipt or invoice is a good sign that all work is being done legally and not on the black market. It suggests that this company is paying all appropriate taxes and therefore not able to charge less by avoiding tax.
  8. Speak to your cleaner. When a cleaner or team of cleaners visits your home, ask them about their job, how it works, what they get paid and what benefits they receive. They will give you good insight into their work life, how they are being treated and whether they can live off what they are receiving whilst getting proper holiday time to rest.
  9. Look out for the Domestic Cleaning Alliance (DCA) logo. The DCA members all have their status with HMRC checked, which is a good indication that the company is paying it’s appropriate taxes. Keep in mind however, that whilst an agency may be paying appropriate taxes, this doesn’t mean that their self-employed workers will be too! Clear Interiors is a member of the DCA!

In conclusion…

The above ideas don’t guarantee that the service you are choosing is operating ethically, but you should get a good idea and be able to weed out the very worst operators.

As a parting thought, I’d encourage everyone to keep in the forefront of their mind that their cleaners are members of our local community in Norwich with their own families to feed and lives to lead. We are proud advocates for our staff and endeavour to ensure that their work provides them a level of dignity, safety and security that we all deserve.

So vote with your wallet, support the businesses who are doing what’s best for Norwich and the people who live here!