Half of service users using direct payments hire personal assistants without carrying out Criminal Records Bureau checks, a Skills for Care report said this week.
The study found 48% of people did not carry out CRB checks on personal assistants (PAs) they did not previously know, while 46% failed to seek references (see graphs).
The report – the first major study of direct payment recipients’ role as employers – was launched as the General Social Care Council announced it would consult on whether PAs should be registered members of the social care workforce, which would require CRB checks.
There has been a long debate about checks for PAs, with disability activists arguing they would compromise user control and safeguarding groups saying they would prevent abuse.
PAs are excluded from the vetting and barring scheme for staff working with vulnerable people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which comes into force next year.
But under a similar scheme in Scotland, PAs will have to have an enhanced disclosure check and councils will be able to withdraw direct payments from users who hire unchecked staff.
No decision has been taken on whether PAs should be registered as the social care register in England is rolled out to domiciliary care staff over the next few years.
Most users felt a register of PAs would assist recruitment but were split on whether it should be compulsory to use it. However, nine out of 10 PAs backed compulsory registration.
The survey showed a decrease in people’s experience of abuse after moving to direct payments. One in 10 employers said they had suffered abuse from personal assistants, compared with 18% who had been mistreated by staff employed by agencies commissioned by councils.
The GSCC, which co-sponsored this week’s study, said any system of registration would have to fit with the freedoms granted service users under direct payments, while enabling them to make informed choices when employing strangers.
Registration is also designed to help drive up the quality of the workforce.
The survey found that only 42% of PAs held a health or social care qualification.
The fact that two-thirds of employers believed their PA had no relevant qualifications suggests a lack of awareness among employers of their assistants’ backgrounds, the report added.