Hiring a personal assistant
A personal assistant (PA) is someone employed by the family or young disabled person to help with day-to day living. It is not a care role in the traditional sense and can involve personal care as well as many other tasks that you decide need doing.
You might choose to employ a PA if you receive money from the local authority in the form of direct payments or a personal budget.
There are fewer legal requirements when recruiting a PA to support you, but there are still some issues you need to bear in mind to ensure you meet employment law standards.
What support can a PA provide?
A personal assistant can help an employer with basic aspects of their care. This could include help with:
- Personal care
- Preparing meals
- Getting dressed
- Taking medication
- Getting to school or college
You should be able to review this regularly to ensure that your family's needs are being met in the best way possible.
Many families have found they have been able to develop their own training on what is directly important to them and employ people who are able to understand and support their traditions or cultures.
As your child gets older and the kind of support you need changes, you can look again at the care plan you've made and make adaptations, agreeing new roles with the people you employ. The charity In Control has worked with many families and have developed a Personal Outcomes Evaluation Tool (POET) to support families in identifying what has worked for them.
How do I find a PA?
You can either decide to recruit and manage a support worker yourself or go through an agency or support provider.
The advantage of doing it yourself is the freedom and flexibility it gives you, as well as saving on management fees and other overheads that providers have to include in their charges. You have direct control over who supports your child, what hours they work, and how they work. The potential disadvantage is that you will need the time and skills to do it and will be taking on more responsibility.
There are several types of support provider, including profit-making companies, not-for-profit companies or registered charities and co-operatives.
The advantage of using a provider is that it saves you time and reduces your responsibilities. The potential disadvantages are the extra costs and the reduced control. You may not be able to have the same person all the time, or you may have to compromise on the hours they work. You may not have much choice over who is employed to support you and your child.
If you decide to contract a self-employed worker, make sure you check that their work will be classed as self-employed by HMRC. There have been a few cases where self-employed workers have been found to be employed, and the family who hired them has been asked to pay for outstanding tax and national insurance, which had not been budgeted for. You can read an online guide to self-employed status on the gov.uk website, that tells you whether a person is self-employed or not.
Whether you employ someone or recruit a self-employed worker, it is important that you get good references and that each person has a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to ensure your family can trust the people working for you.
How do I recruit a PA?
Employing someone, and the responsibility that it brings, can seem like a daunting task, but there are organisations that support and advise small employers with things like payroll, employment contracts, DBS checks and insurance.
In many areas these services are available through a user-led organisation, such as a centre for independent living. Some employer insurance companies provide free employment law advice as part of the insurance. Or you may have friends or relatives with particular skills who will be willing to help.
Think about the personal attributes a PA should have if they are going to support your child in the best way possible. Think about exactly what help you need before you employ someone or sign a contract with an agency. It may be helpful to think about a typical day for you and write a job description. This should include:
- A list of all the tasks you may need help with
- Any particular skills or qualifications they must have (e.g. a childcare qualification or a full driving licence)
- An estimate of the number of hours and days you will need the person to work
A detailed job description can help agencies select a suitable PA for you and your child. If you're looking to employ a PA yourself, a job description will help people who are interested in applying to get a clear understanding of what the job involves.
Once you have a shortlist of potential candidates, use interviews to ask them questions about themselves, as well as their previous work experience, training and personal interests.
Further guidance about employing a PA can be found on the Skills for Care website
If you are recruiting for a PA to support a child under the age of eight you will also need to adhere to the registered childminder regulations.
The Equal Lives website has published a number of useful factsheets on recruitment and employment
There is no requirement for PA to have any specific qualifications. However it is helpful if they have an NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care, as this demonstrates competence to deliver a quality standard of care.
It is up to you to decide whether you think it is important or not for a PA to have a qualification.