DOMESTIC cleaners across Scotland have seen their incomes fall by more than 80% during the pandemic and now there is a warning that “sheer desperation” from their exclusion from financial support measures could put householders and wider communities at risk.

Unlike their counterparts in England, domestic cleaners here are unable to work, apart from those carrying out essential duties in the homes of people physically unable to do housework themselves.

Their trade association – the Domestic Cleaning Business Network (DCBN) – is lobbying the Scottish Government to give them financial help and is supporting its members to do likewise.

DCBN director, Krissi Foskett, runs her own firm, BD365, across the Central Belt, but has had to furlough 22 of her 27 staff. She told The Sunday National her firm was using up cash reserves, which she expected to run out by April, and had not received a Strategic Framework Business Fund grant because of confusion over eligibility.

“It’s not just a lady wandering around with a bucket and mop, it’s a profession where we have qualifications, we have insurance, overheads,” she said. “I am fully biohazard trained and deliver training to cleaning businesses to work safely. I have helped train over 500 cleaners throughout the UK – understanding how to clean effectively in infection control methods, point them in the right direction and make sure they’re doing it safety and properly.

“We did receive the initial small business grant, however we have not been able to claim anything subsequently including discretionary grants. We were able to claim the Bounceback loan but this is a loan and something we need to factor in to repay from May with no idea of what income we will be able to generate.

“I have personally been cleaning at one location with a broken toe to ensure that I have income to contribute towards my overheads.

“But if I literally jump over the border, I can go and clean down in England, but I can’t up here. There is no rhyme nor reason to it.”

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In November, Foskett contacted the office of Chris Stephens, her local MP, whose response included a statement from the Scottish Government Liaison Team, which said work in people’s homes could continue as long as the business and physical distancing guidelines were followed; the tradesperson was well and not showing coronavirus symptoms; and neither they nor any of the household were self-isolating.

“For the purpose of this guidance, a tradesperson includes all in home workers – such as utility engineers, domestic cleaners, furniture delivery and furniture installations, in accordance with relevant sectoral and industry guidance,” it read.

“At level 4 of Scotland’s Strategic Framework the associated deteriorating state of the virus and widespread community transmission means tradespeople, although permitted to work in other people’s homes, should only provide essential services to help suppress the spread of the virus.”

Foskett said that confirmed domestic cleaning work – which is non-contact – could continue, even under level 4 restrictions. But after Boxing Day, the reference to providing “essential “services” was omitted in the updated advisories.

Foskett added: “As their advisory body, their voice, we absolutely understand the rules and guidelines on domestic cleaning and are repeatedly telling our members that they must stop working for now, to protect the public and themselves.

“However, with no financial help coupled with a fear that they might lose their clients if they stop, many feel they have no option but to continue going into people’s homes … there are huge health risks in doing so. By not supporting our cleaners to stay at home, we are forcing them out to work.”

Kelly Fairweather, owner and founder of Dundee firm At Your Service, who is also associate director of the DCBN said: “Domestic cleaners should not be entering their clients’ homes but we believe many are continuing to do so.

“This is an exceptionally tough time for many of us but particularly those whose income stream has been cut off with no financial support in the interim.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed that in most cases, domestic cleaners should not be working.

They said: “We understand how challenging this is for low-paid cleaners, particularly those who have fallen through the cracks between the UK Government’s furlough and self-employment income support schemes.

“People in this difficult situation may be eligible for Universal Credit and we are actively taking steps to fill in the gaps in UK-wide schemes.

“Local authorities also have individual discretionary funds to support local business needs.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her government is looking at how to streamline business support funding, to get money to firms as soon as possible.

She added: “I will also look at the administrative support we are giving local authorities to help them allocate money as quickly as possible,”