Why I decided to try pet sitting
I’ve always been a cat lover and when I was younger we always had cats as pets, but when I started renting in London this was no longer possible.
Most tenancy agreements don’t allow pets and a lot of homes in the city are unsuitable either because they don’t have a garden, or because they’re not big enough.
When I first heard about Cat in a Flat, the website which matches cat sitters and cat owners, I immediately thought it was too good to be true and was rather dubious about the whole thing.
Now I have been using it for a few years, both as a cat sitter and cat owner, and on average I’m making around £100 a month through the website simply by cat sitting for my neighbours.
Here I explain exactly how it works, what protection is in place for the cats and owners’ homes, and speak to the founders about why they set it up and what they plan in the future.
How does Cat in a Flat work?
The website is a kind of match-making site, for cat owners and sitters who live near to each other.
Cat sitters set up their own profile listing any experience they have of looking after cats including details such as if they are CRB checked.
The sitters are then verified by the website, after supplying identification, and owners can then contact them to arrange a cat sitting stint. They are able to write an introduction about themselves and set their fees for cat sitting.
Once the sitting is complete both owner and sitter leave a review of how they think it went.
When a cat sitter is booked, they will meet the owner first and then be given the keys to look after the cat while the owner is away.
This can be popping in once, twice, or staying overnight and responsibilities can also include watering plants and administering medication.
The cat sitter enters their bank account details when they sign up, and money is transferred securely to them once the sitting has started.
What kind of price do cat sitters charge?
How much a cat sitter charges is up to them but prices start from around £8 for one visit a day, £12 for two and £15 for an overnight stay.
In my local area I charge £25 for overnight stays but if I’m looking after a cat for a longer period, for example, if the owner is going away for a summer holiday, I might lower this.
During peak times, such as the Christmas holiday, sitters can automatically choose to increase their fees by a set percentage and they’re free to change their fees whenever they like.
Why were pet-sitting sites set up in the first place?
Cat in a Flat owners, Kathrin Burckhardt and Julie Barnes, say as life-long cat lovers, they always struggled to find honest, trustworthy cat sitters to look after their beloved pets.
“Taking inspiration from AirBnB and the booming sharing economy, we knew there must be an easier way to find a cat sitter and Cat in a Flat was born,” they said.
It enables people who aren’t able to have cats to “get their kitty fix” by helping out cat owners in the neighbourhood, and they get paid to do it.
How does the website make money?
For every booking made, a hefty percentage of around 20% is taken by the website as a “service charge”, which covers things such as insurance and the running of the company.
A flat fee of £1.50 is also charged to the cat owner for every booking they make.
Are pets protected through the website?
One of the biggest concerns I had when I used the website for finding a cat sitter was knowing whether my two tabby cats, Oscar and Dennis, would be looked after.
Not only did I want to make sure they were safe, I wanted to know my house wouldn’t be wrecked or my possessions stolen if I was handing over my keys to a stranger.
The process of meeting with the cat sitter first is reassuring but there is also an insurance element included.
If the booking and payment are done through the website, rather than booking a cat sitter and then leaving cash for them for example, the sitter will be covered by the site’s insurance.
This includes things such as public liability insurance, if a cat sitter is injured in a home, and key cover.
Your pet is also covered for up to £15,000 in case anything goes wrong or they need medical treatment however theft, loss or accidental damage isn’t included.
This is quite a big area if you are handing your keys over to someone else, however, the website owners say they have other checks in place to make sure both pets and homes are covered.
These include: vetting cat sitters before they’re allowed to list on the website; telling owners and sitters to meet up beforehand; and a code of conduct which both parties are encouraged to sign before the sitting takes place.
If something does go wrong, or a sitter doesn't follow this code they are automatically removed from the website.
It’s also worth noting that your home insurance may provide cover for theft, loss or accidental damage depending on the policy.
If you’re not sure, call your insurer and ask or check your policy documents.
Do you need to pay tax as a sitter?
Whether or you’ll need to pay tax depends on how much you are earning.
A recent tax break introduced for entrepreneurs allows people to earn up to £1,000 through the sharing economy with websites such as AirBnb and Cat in a Flat before they pay any tax.
If you’re earning more than this – which would require a serious amount of cat sitting – you will need to pay tax.
However, this will depend on any other earnings you have.
At the moment, the Personal Tax allowance means you can earn £11,850 tax-free, after which 20% tax is levied.
Could you set up your own pet-sitting business?
Kathrin and Julie set up the business together and they advise doing it with someone else because of the amount of work involved.
“Comprehensive market research” is key to make sure you’re differentiating yourself from competitors, they said, and being frugal with your finances is important
“When starting out, plan your business from concept to a minimal viable product.
“Our business journey has seen us cover a lot of ground to-date and we're always striving to reach new heights,” they added.
What other options are available for pet sitting?
There are a number of websites available for cat and dog sitting services.
One of the most well-known for dogs is Borrow my Doggy, which works in a similar way and allows dog lovers to take out local dogs for walks.
Away from the internet, there are catteries and kennels across the country which may be more suitable for you if you don’t want someone coming into your home.
If you have a good relationship with your neighbours, they may even offer to look after your cats for free so you won’t need to use a professional company for this.
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