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Mobile Apps

Helpling cleans up in Singapore with Uber-like 'sharing economy' model

The Uber for home cleaning, Helpling, lets you hire house cleaners either online or through an app. It's attracted a workforce of students who love the job's flexibility.

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A publicity picture from Helpling showing happy cleaners. Helpling

Apps are changing the way Singapore's student population thinks about work, with online services matching them with people who need their homes cleaned. Better paid and more flexible than working in a bar or restaurant, it's the latest example of an advanced economy becoming Uber-ised.

Helpling, one such startup that provides local house-cleaners, is now available in Singapore, and has added mobile booking via an app for iOS and Android phones.

The house-cleaning market in Singapore is expanding, in contrast to the general decline in the country's service industry. Undergraduates and new grads have taken to freelance house-cleaning through agencies with websites that push their services to homeowners. A freelance house-cleaner in Singapore can make around S$1,500 (US$1,115, AU$1,430) per month with around 23 hours of work per week, according to business site Asia One.

Debuting in Berlin in 2014 and available in Australia, Canada and several European countries, German startup Helpling's entry to Asia started in March this year with the acquisition of Singapore cleaning service Spickify. Co-founder Hoe Yeen Teck is Helpling's local CEO.

The introduction of mobile booking has also proven to be a hit -- both for clients and for the freelancing cleaners. "Helpling has more than 200 cleaners on its database. Each cleaner has to go through a thorough registration process -- this includes a background check and a personal interview," said Hoe. "We are just live for a few months and there are more than 1,000 homes using our service. We see a huge demand in Singapore."

Prior to Helpling's launch, Singapore had other online booking vendors for house cleaners, such as Properhands, where the site charges a flat S$20 ($15, AU$19) fee for one cleanup session by a recommended cleaner.

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Homeowners pay between S$15 and S$20 ($11-15, AU$14-19) for an hour's worth of cleaning. Using online services allow for conveniences such as skipping agency fees and easily handling cleaning schedules.

The use of online booking for house-cleaning chores has proven popular in Singapore, as getting a regular cleaner normally involves paying an agency an upfront fee of a few hundred dollars.

Conversely, arranging a cleaning session through Helpling is similar to getting a taxi with Uber -- the user enters the address of the place that requires cleaning, with a preferred date and time. Payment is handled online via debit or credit card, and it is only fully transacted after the cleaning job is done.

Besides being used for booking a cleaner, the app can set alerts and update your calendar with your latest arrangement. You can also refer to your booking history in order to repeat the cleaning service for future sessions.

While house-cleaning is physically demanding and generally regarded in Singapore as a part-time job instead of a career, students flock to the task as it pays better by the hour than service jobs in the food and drink industry. The hours are also flexible enough to cater to other commitments, such as their university workload.

"The undergrads have varying workloads at school, for instance, during exam time they are unable to commit to a normal part-time job where a fixed schedule is allocated to them," Hoe said.

"Additionally, the graduates often seek additional income to clear off their student debt -- since their take-home amount is high, which can easily double or triple what they would get working in the (food and drink) service industry," Hoe added. "Furthermore, this pool of workers not only bring a fresh burst of energy to the cleaning industry, but also shuns away from the negative connotation that cleaning jobs have."