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about how a company views their reputation, and how they want to be perceived by their customers. So if they turn up in a tatty, rusty old van and their clothes look well past their sell-by-date, you may wish to think twice. Poor appearance often translates into poor performance. Equally, if cleaning or maintenance staff are well turned out in branded clothing that’s in good repair, then they are happy to be ambassadors for their firm and the standards that it claims to aspire to. Of course, if they’re hard working, they may not always look pristine - the very nature of their job means they will get dirty. However you will instinctively know whether they are simply scruffy or they are doing their best to look presentable. Finally, all contractors, by law, must carry public indemnity insurance and should also have employers liability insurance. Such insurance policies will cover them for damage repairs or replacements. This gives you peace of mind, and could potentially avoid costly and time consuming court cases. So, don’t forget to ask to see their insurance. Once you’ve decided on your preferred contractor, you will need to put in place an annual contract between yourselves and them. Always build-in a probationary period that gives you a safety net should you not be happy with what you’re getting


So you’ve got a contract but what can residents expect of typical cleaners? Our view at UCS is that at the very least, the communal areas should be dusted and vacuumed and the internal glass should have all marks removed. Ideally, dusting should include all skirtings, architraves, window frames and sills, radiators, light and wall fittings, balustrades and gloss painted surfaces. Sticky or dirty marks should be properly wiped and removed. Things that are often missed by cleaning companies, and to which attention should be paid are metal finger plates on doors, glass panels in internal doors, and the outside of external communal doors, security lights and wall mounted entry systems. Carpets should be thoroughly vacuumed. This means getting into corners, lifting door mats and cleaning under these, and getting into that difficult crease between stair treads and the riser to the next step. If the area has a hard floor, this should be mopped. Other items that could be scheduled-in on a rotational basis include cleaning down stair nosings, high reach cobweb removal and the removal of scuff marks on the walls. All windows should be washed on a regular basis – how frequently this is done is up to the customer. Add-on services, such as checking and replacing light bulbs, regular

cleaning and maintenance of bin stores and routine maintenance jobs such as adjusting locks and door closers may also be added to a contract, depending on the service offered by the contractor in question and the price the residents are willing to pay. For example, one additional service that has been much in demand in the last 12 months has been the gritting of paved and parking areas during severe icy weather. Another is that of removing bio-hazardous and clinical waste. This involves the removal of ‘sharps’ such as syringes and drug paraphanalia as well as other potentially dangerous substances, such as both human and animal body fluids and faeces. UCS has received many calls over recent months to remove this type of waste from the communal areas of apartment blocks. Residents wisely steer well clear and call in a specialist contractor who knows how to handle such things properly and remove them safely from their site.


Once you have appointed a contractor and are confident that you are receiving the right level of service, it is important to actively manage that relationship and ensure that the needs of your block continue to be met. The key to this is good communication. This is a fundamental failing on many sites, leading to misunderstandings and friction that can frustrate all involved in the partnership. One example from the UCS files involves an apartment block resident who was annoyed that the outside security light had not

been working “for months” and represented a clear safety risk. He took the cleaning contractors to task over this while they were carrying out their duties one day. This problem raised a number of important issues: • Was this the cleaning contractor’s job? • Was he insured for such work? • If he was responsible for changing the light bulb, as he was never there during the hours of darkness, how would he know that the light was not working, so who was responsible for reporting it?

• Was the contractor authorised by the property managers to carry out the work?

Regular communication can make all these queries go away and avoid the very real frustrations for all concerned. Also, close communication that is constructive and amiable can often result in contractors doing favours for their clients, such as removing items from bin stores that have been illegally dumped, or clearing a blocked gutter while windows are being cleaned, or removing a carpet stain. These are add-on services that could otherwise involve substantial costs. When a good relationship exists there is also a desire to please the customer, and an excellent mutual understanding develops. So be sure to schedule regular ongoing meetings between the residents in your block (or their representatives), the contractors and the property management company.

Richard Shelton is co-founder of United Cleaning Services Ltd (South West) based in Somerset. Tel: 01749 606668 41

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