Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on 23 March 2020 and outlined his “roadmap” to bring the country out of lockdown on 10 May 2020. The lockdown has had a profound impact on professional house cleaners and the domestic cleaning sector.
Data from TidyChoice, an online cleaning platform, reveals the financial impact on professional house cleaners, their customers and the sector.
After lockdown, new bookings completely dried up and the majority of existing bookings were paused or cancelled. In the first week of the lockdown, from 24 March to 31 March, gross volume through the TidyChoice platform fell by 44% compared to prior week. In the following week, gross volume fell by a further 19%. Gross volume for April 2020 was down 68% on prior year.
Some bookings did continue. A number of customers have special requirements, such as disabilities or childcare needs. These sessions continued with extra safety measures. As public transport was reserved for essential workers, cleaners often went to customers on foot.
TidyChoice surveyed cleaners to assess the financial impact of the lockdown.
One cleaner, Nelly said, “I was not prepared for the lockdown. Like the rest of the self-employed I don’t have any work now. I have been on Universal Credit for about a year and was working a limited number of hours as a cleaner to get the extra money to live on. Now my earnings are down to £22 per week.”
It was not just the lack of work which had become an issue.
“I normally shop at Lidl and buy yellow label marked-down food. Because of the panic buying there is much less marked-down food so I have to pay full price. This has made a big difference. I am now struggling to buy food. I have been hit hard and I don’t know what I am going to do. It is a strain.”
Another cleaner, Vanya highlighted the impact of the virus on her earnings, she said, “I lost 10 customers because of the virus which represents 70-80% of my total customer base. With the lower income, I had to prioritise basic necessities such as food and toiletries.
“I wasn’t able to pay my rent for the past 3 weeks but my landlord understands the situation. I feel alone and the government didn’t do much to help me. I have applied for Universal Credit and I am currently waiting for an answer.”
Some cleaners, such as Maria Helena were fortunate to have generous customers.
“I lost a few customers. However, some of my customers have asked me not to go but have agreed to pay for the sessions. I am a bit tight at the moment. I am OK with rent and bills but I am burning through savings.”
Most cleaners are self-employed and ineligible for the furlough scheme. Payments from the self-employment scheme were not made until late May and many cleaners were not eligible for this scheme. Universal Credit is the only available government support but applications take time to process and the financial crunch facing cleaners was more immediate.
To bridge the gap, TidyChoice appealed to customers to pay for part or all of cleaning sessions that were not taking place. For around 15% of total pre-lockdown bookings, customers continued to pay their cleaners for sessions that were not taking place.
In addition, many customers generously gave tips to their cleaners to help them through this difficult time. Some tips were as much as £60 for a single session. If it were not for the generosity of customers, many cleaners would have struggled even more to make ends meet.
On Sunday 10 May the prime minister outlined his “roadmap” to bring the country out of lockdown. The government started to encourage certain sectors to return to work and provided guidance on making workplaces Covid-secure.
In the second half of May, TidyChoice saw an uptick in the number of new bookings as some people went back to work. There was a demand to get homes back to normal. There was an 81% increase in new bookings for the second half of the month over the first half.
TidyChoice expect new bookings to continue to increase in June as children start going back to school. However, there are headwinds impacting the demand-side.
The UK economy is forecast to fall by 35% in the second quarter of 2020. Many sectors have shut down and it is expected that many businesses will not survive the lockdown and social distancing.
TidyChoice surveyed customers that had cancelled or paused their bookings because of Covid-19. They found that 5% of respondents would not be rebooking because of a change in financial circumstances. Ana Andres, co-founder of TidyChoice, commented on the survey results.
“5% may not seem like a significant percentage but we expect that the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak will create more uncertainty in personal finances. We expect that demand for home cleaning services will remain weak in 2020. A second wave of the virus and further lockdown restrictions would reverse the recent recovery in demand.”