Hiring a personal assistant poses a series of challenges for clients and PAs. Daniel Lombard asks experts for advice on how to get the employer-PA partnership right
1 Find the right person
Some budget holders may prefer to hire their friends or relatives – people who are likely to have in-depth knowledge of their care and support needs, with whom they already have a strong relationship of trust. Moira Fraser, director of policy at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, says this can work very well in many cases, but warns that it can lead to difficulties and relationship breakdown. If employers need to recruit more widely, they should work out what they are looking for in terms of skills, experience and qualifications before looking for possible candidates. The Essex Coalition Disabled People points out that PA registers are available from user-led organisations and can signpost employers to potential staff. For example: http://localcarers.org.uk
2 Conduct CRB checks
Employers should carry out enhanced Criminal Record Bureau checks before recruiting a PA and make all appointments subject to this check, along with at least two references from previous employers. Rob Wilson, chief executive of the user-led disability charity the Rowan Organisation, says this procedure should even apply to friends and family members: “Don’t assume that someone that you know is going to be suitable; always carry out the checks before you let them start.” It’s also a criminal offence to employ anyone who is ineligible to work in this country, so employers should ask to see original identification and keep copies so they can prove they have checked.
3 Keep thorough records
Employers should draw up a budget based on their direct payment/personal budget and any other funds, and keep records of financial transactions such as direct payment received and spent, basic pay and holiday pay for the PA, expenses, and other costs such as insurance. It may also make sense to set up a separate bank account. This is because they may be asked to show proof by HM Revenue and Customs that tax requirements are being met, or local authorities may ask for evidence to show how direct payments are being spent.
Fraser says: “People may feel able to do this or may feel completely overwhelmed.” She recommends that those who do not feel confident should contact local personal assistance schemes or independent living projects, where support on these issues is offered.
4 Get the money right
The PA will need to be paid at least the minimum wage, currently £5.93 per hour, and will be entitled to sick pay and holiday pay. Employees also need to pay income tax and national insurance contributions which come out of their wages, while employers also need to pay a chunk of national insurance. Employers can make the pay arrangements themselves – see the HM Revenue and Customs website for more details: www.hmrc.gov.uk/employers – or join a payroll scheme. Local direct payments support schemes or independent living projects should be able to provide assistance with this. Fraser says payroll schemes can provide payslips, P60s (the end of year box certificate) and calculate how much tax needs to be paid.
5 Draw up a contract
A contract and job description setting out the care and support required are important markers for the relationship between a PA and employer and should be provided at the outset. These documents should describe the specific tasks the employer will expect the PA to carry out, and even softer issues such as how they would like to be spoken to and cared for. The contract is a legal requirement and Wilson says it should include the following:
● Place of work.
● Working hours.
● Pay rate.
● Duration of employment and whether permanent, fixed term etc.
● Holiday entitlement.
● Health and safety arrangements (although health and safety laws do not apply to domestic settings).
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, says these documents will be useful for both parties, as PAs are not covered by any national guidelines for pay and conditions. “Many disputes and misunderstandings arise because these things were not dealt with upfront,” she says.
6 Take out insurance
All employers must take out employers’ liability insurance to cover the cost of compensation for employees’ injuries or illness, for any incidents that occur in the workplace. This is a legal requirement of the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, and people can be fined if they do not have this, so employers should ensure they have a relevant policy before hiring a PA. This costs between £65 and £140 for a year.
It’s not compulsory to take out public liability insurance, which covers employers for claims made against them by members of the public or other businesses.
7 If things go wrong
Procedures should be in place to deal with any problems in a fair and equitable manner, should they arise. Employers should have disciplinary and grievance procedures in place. Rob Wilson, of the Rowan Organisation, says: “Always document a full record of any proceedings and ask your PA to sign to acknowledge they are accurate. This will stand you in good stead if the issue is ever taken to tribunal,” Fraser adds: “Back-up plans need to be in place to cover sick leave, holidays, car breakdowns, bad weather and other problems so arrangements need to be made with people who can be called on at short notice.”
Training is important for both parties. The employer should be aware of basic management skills such as keeping a rota, and requirements under employment law. PAs may benefit from training on manual-handling, food preparation and health and safety. The Social Care Institute for Excellence points out that learning and development are key to helping PAs adapt to the personalisation agenda, but training needs to be tailored to the individual they are supporting. A personalisation briefing from the Social Care Institute for Excellence says: “Why, for example, would you want to do training about challenging behaviour if the person you are supporting doesn’t need that kind of support?” But Fraser points out that training courses are often expensive, and personal budgets and direct payments may not cover all of the costs.
9 Support for PAs
“Not being in a formal workplace leaves PAs isolated,” says Helga Pile, “making it vital that they establish a support mechanism.” Trade unions provide advice and support services for workers on a range of issues including employment rights. Pile says Unison has funded a dedicated national post to look into how the union can best support PAs. “We want to help PAs get together, share experiences and build networks, so they can mentor and support each other,” she adds.
10 Keeping the relationship positive
Making the effort to ensure an open and healthy relationship is worth the effort, says Fraser – but it’s important to remember that the PA is there to support the individual, not to be their friend. “Regular reviews are important so that the PA knows what is going well and any problems can be addressed,” she says. “This could be done informally over tea and biscuits, say, and once a week, to catch up and talk about how things are going.” She says open and honest communication prevents small things building up over time.”
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With thanks to:
Essex Coalition of Disabled People www.ecdp.org.uk
Rowan Organisation, West Midlands-based charity which supports 5,000 direct payment users who employ 12,000 PAs, www.therowan.org
Unison, which represents 300,000 people working in social care, www.unison.org.uk
Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which provides support to 400,000 carers, www.carers.org
National Centre for Independent Living – www.ncil.org.uk
Skills for Care – toolkit for people employing their own personal assistants: www.skillsforcare.org.uk/entry_to_social_care/recruitment/PAtoolkit.aspx
Being the Boss – for people employing their own PAs to share experiences www.beingtheboss.co.uk