Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How much should I pay my cleaner during the lockdown?

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

Q. Mary, what percentage of cleaners’ normal wages should we pay them when they can’t come in for the foreseeable future? My cleaner has worked for me for 30 years but she has never had a bank account and so I’ve always paid her in cash. Since she has never legitimised her position, it means she would not be able to benefit from Rishi Sunak’s scheme to help the self-employed. If I pay her 50 per cent, it will not be enough, as she needs every penny of what she earns. However, if I pay her as much for not working as she would normally get then I feel it is giving the wrong message. Also she has benefited all these years by not paying tax on her earnings. Can you help me solve this?
— T.S., Norwich

A. Painful though this is, you should pay 100 per cent. First, you too have been benefiting from the method of pay because, had you employed your cleaner properly, you would have been obliged to pay Employers’ National Insurance. By paying her 100 per cent for not working, the message you will be giving is not the wrong one about rewarding laziness, but the right one about rewarding loyalty. Soon you will both be able to be tested and at some point can resume your normal relationship. This is a time for generosity, not fine calculations.


Q. I am self-isolating at home in Kensington. My grandson has just had to come back from Kenya where he was working with the Samburu. Now he is self-isolating in Notting Hill, but every night we have a lovely drink together. I put a chair on the doorstep for him and I leave his own screw-top bottle of wine and his own glass, all properly sprayed and hygienic, dangling in a plastic bag on the railings outside. I sit at least six metres away from him on a chair at the bottom of the stairs, and it’s almost as good as being together in the drawing room.
A.C., London W8

A. Thank you for sharing this charming vignette.

Q. Two of my friends who see therapists have been continuing their sessions via Skype — but they are in the country. I have the name of a therapist I would like to start seeing but, along with my whole family, I’m in lockdown in our London house. It’s not big enough for there to be any room in which I could be sure of having privacy for an hour. Can you recommend a fiendish scheme to preoccupy other members of a household for an hour at a time so that one person can get on with talking freely to a therapist?
— Name and address withheld

A. Don’t bother with anything complicated. Just try out a Skype session outside your house in a car parked near enough to latch on to the wifi.

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