Direct payments: Answering frequently asked questions

Question 15. Is employing a personal assistant complicated?

A personal assistant (PA) is someone employed to provide some of the personal help and support a disabled person requires both at home and in the community.

PAs need to have a range of skills and abilities to take on this work, as well as a positive attitude to supporting and empowering disabled people, according to their own wishes and needs.

Sian Vasey's Rough guide to managing personal assistants (36)provides expert advice on a variety of issues ranging from interviews to disciplinary action.

Direct payment (DP) users have identified that they need a wide range of commitment and collaboration from services to help them make a success of employing PAs.

The local authority should ensure that these services are available. This can be provided directly by the local authority (LA) or through specific funding to a local direct payment support scheme.

Authority works with carers' centre to provide a wide range of support service including payroll service. Holds consultation meetings with service users in relation to the training needs of recipients and personal assistants.

Sefton LA

PAs can be employed to do a great variety of tasks, ranging from personal care to walking the dog, watering the plants, reading correspondence, parenting and going on holiday.

Direct payments support schemes have helped DP users considerably in breaking down the barriers and complications in employing PAs. Jobcentre Plus hasalso got in on the act to help this process in some areas:

We have also been working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus who provide us with a free accessible building to hold interviews and give us advice on recruitment procedures. Still developing good guidance handbooks on this process. These will be developed with Jobcentre Plus and ourselves. But will be user-led, as they [users] know what they want and what to look for.

Gateshead LA

Additionally, there is literature available from the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) about the employment of PAs - Everything you need to know about getting and using direct payments, to be revised October 2005 - with useful examples of job descriptions, interview schedules, contracts and disciplinary procedures. (37)

Direct payment recipients have suggested that PA registers would be useful resources to help with recruitment. These are now being set up in some areas.

We support with any aspect of employment and hold a database of PAs who apply for employment with other users of DPs.

Salford DPSS

The practice survey includes more examples of innovative practice that support the employment of personal assistants:

Direct payment service users have identified a need for training for themselves on their responsibilities as an employer and also, following their recruitment, for the PAs concerning their responsibilities.

Two people reported favourably on their local Inland Revenue office providing an outreach worker to help in the completion of their tax returns. (9)

We are shortly commencing a Community Fund project to research skills that PAs need to work with people with learning disabilities and will produce a training pack. Also a DH project which will produce a DVD college course for using DPs and will also train seconded social workers in DP to become ambassadors to improve practice.

West of England Centre for Inclusive Living

The payment of personal assistants is a crucial factor in being able to employ the right person for the job. It should be remembered that they are offering a skilled service to vulnerable people. Local authorities should consider what constitutes appropriate levels of pay for such a job.

People have to be able to offer staff an 'attractive package' if they are to compete with other bigger employers. People who use direct payments are not always able to do this, as the amount they can pay staff is not enough. (9)

The direct payments advice service works with potential DP users to help with all aspects of becoming an employer including recruitment, payroll issues, etc. We also organise training for both service users and their PAs on an on-going basis (some of our training we offer through our local SS at a reduced rate).

Brighton Direct Payments Advice Service

Employing a PA through direct payment is not the same as having a care worker. They are a different type of person; in a way it is a new profession because people have to have different skills. If users understand this they will get more from their PAs. Otherwise it just reverts to the old way and people become dependent again.

Direct payments service user