Having a the right personal assistant can open up many opportunities that weren’t previously available to you. Having the wrong personal assistant for you can be troublesome at best! It can seem like a daunting process, but it really doesn’t need to be. I hope this guide will help you find the right match for you!
How and where to advertise
What you write in your job ad and how you present it is very important. You are selling yourself as an employer and you want it to attract the right person. It’s important to think about how your advert looks
A properly designed poster is better (and more eye catching) than just a simple black and white typed document. You don’t need graphic design skills or expensive software. I use Canva. A free online and easy-to-use site, to create graphics with pre-made templates to help. Just make sure it is easily readable!
I’ve advertised in a range of places. Some of these are free. Like Universal Job Match – the system used by the Job Centre to advertise jobs. There are also Facebook groups specialising in adverts for PAs. I’ve also used local community boards. Some payroll support agencies will also advertise, but I’ve not had many applications when I have used them. I have found both Care.com and Gumtree more fruitful, but they cost between £26-£36. Personally, I have had no success with PA pool, but I know others have.
What you write is just as important as how you present it.
You obviously need the basics – what the role is, tasks involved, hours involved, location of job and rate of pay. Make sure you keep the list of tasks brief, but don’t leave out anything that may require specialist training. Unless particular shifts covered, you may just want to put down how many hours a week you can offer. Don’t forget to add contact information, but never give out your address on a job advert!
Rates of pay
As of April 2017 the minimum wage is £7.50 for those over 25 years old. Its £7.05 for those aged between 21-24 and £5.60 for those aged 18-20. It is illegal to pay under these amounts. But there is also the Living wage. This is calculated by The Living Wage Foundation who believe “a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay”. This is currently set at £8.45 outside of London, and £9.75 inside London.
Many direct payment support agencies will suggest paying £9 an hour (or more in London) to insure you get good value care. I don’t think that how much you pay always relates to the quality of care you receive. But personal assistants need to be well paid. It isn’t a menial job and often requires further training. The more complex your care is and the more training involved, the more you will have to pay. Between £8.00 and £9.50 is normal for low to moderate level care. Pay rates go up to £15 (or more) for those with high care needs. These rates may change if anti-social working hours are expected, such as overnight periods.
I would always recommend going with another person, for a few reasons. Firstly, for safety reasons. Even when meeting someone in a public place it makes sense for someone you know to hang around in the background. You may have no clue who the person is and what their background is. You may want someone to sit with you. I often do, just to prompt me when I’ve lost myself mid sentence, or forgotten something really important.
As I said before – always meet in a public location. NEVER have a potential employee come to your home for an interview. Again if you don’t know who this person is, you don’t know what their background is, and it’s not very professional. I often choose cafes as a suitable place to interview potential employees.
But this time I found this to be problematic. I happened to be interviewing on the same morning that they held their weekly mother and baby meeting. The noise made it near impossible free to think let alone ask important questions. So I ended up moving to a much quieter venue further up the road. I have also used the jobcentre to interviewing potential PAs. But I found it to be over formal and somewhat intimidating to both myself and the potential employee. You may want to consider hiring a meeting room – This is sometimes possible through some of the direct payment support agencies. Again I found this to be a little bit unnecessary.
I think it’s really important to have a friendly atmosphere when you’re interviewing potential PAs. These are people who will have to do complete personal tasks in your home. You need to be able to have some kind of rapport with them. I think it’s also important to note that everybody treats their PAs differently. I do find it difficult when some people to treat them more like servants than assistants. They are there to assist you, rather than to wait on you hand and foot. Thus I feel it’s important to almost treat them as a friend with very clear boundaries, as opposed to how a manager in a large company may treat their staff.
You also need to get an idea of how you can relate to this person you interviewing. When you conduct an interview in a very formal manner, it can be difficult to gauge how somebody behaves in day-to-day work like situations. Best way around this problem is to conduct an interview with some informality.
It is important though to make sure you ask the right questions
Here are some questions that I felt I needed to ask:
- What makes you suitable for this role? – experience isn’t everything. Its also about someone’s manner, and the way they would be able to relate to you and your life.
- How would this role fit into your daily life? – if you need someone who needs to be flexible then someone who also has lots of other commitments might not be the right person for you.
- How flexible can you be with your time? – again this gives you a good indication of how flexible they can be.
- Can you work both term time and school holidays? You can’t directly ask if someone has children, as it’s a protected characteristic. But asking if someone can work holidays and term time gives you a better idea as to whether someone has got access to childcare if they need it, and if they are able to work when you need them to.
- How do you feel about helping with personal care tasks/food preparation etc? You need to ask how people feel about doing different aspects of the job. Some people may have never boiled an egg before. Others may feel squeamish about doing certain personal care tasks. If this is the case, they may not be the person for you.
- Do you have experience with (any specialist medical equipment you use – i.e. tube feeding pumps, hoists etc)?
- Do you drive? If you need someone to drive your vehicle, then you need to make sure that the person you’re interviewing has a full UK/EU/or other driving licence that is recognised in this country. You cannot expect them to use their vehicle, as that would affect their insurance.
- What are your hobbies and interests? This helps you find out more about the person, and whether they would be a good fit.
- What would you do if you came in and found I had had a fall/an injury/etc? This helps you to understand if they can act calmly in an emergency situation. Someone who panics if you are hurt or unwell, may not be suitable.
- What does confidentiality mean to you? The last thing you want is your potential PA going and telling their mates about the ins and outs of your personal care needs. You want someone who doesn’t talk about what they do whilst working with you unless you say otherwise. The only time they can break confidentiality is if you tell them something which indicates you are at risk.
- My short-term memory issues mean I get disorganised and sometimes needed some assistance. How would you approach this? PAs should never help with monetary issues. They should never be signatories, have power of attorney, or access to your accounts. But they can and should help you to organise your appointments, help you keep things in a way that you can easily find things when you need them.
Protected Characteristics and Discrimination
You are not allowed to ask potential employees about:
- Nationality or place of birth (but you must ask to make sure that they have the legal right to work in the UK)
- Whether they are pregnant or have children
- If they are disabled (but they must also be able to complete the required tasks if reasonable adjustments were put into place)
- Religious or political affiliations may be
- Marital status
These are all protected characteristics. This means that you cannot decide against employing someone for having or not having one of these characteristics. To do so is discrimination. You could be taken to an employment tribunal for doing so.
Conditions of employment
It is really important that you know what the conditions of employment are before you offer anyone the job. You must offer at least the legal minimum annual leave, which currently stands at 5.6 weeks pro rata. Set out what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour such as:
- Turning up on time
- Keeping confidentiality
- Expected standards of work – making sure that your medication is taken at a certain time every day, that meals are made, etc.
They must also include the notice period your employee and yourself must give to terminate employment. This is usually a month for the employer and sometimes up to 2 months for the employee to terminate. You need to offer a contract – this protects both you and your employee. Most direct payment support agencies offer sample contracts. You just need to fill in the blanks. But before sending it on, as someone at the agency to look over it to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations.
I have only once had someone refuse a DBS check. I refused to employ them on that basis (which I was well within my rights to do so). Without a DBS check (formerly CRB checks), someone could be assuming someone else’s identity or hiding a criminal life. Almost all social services will require you to do a DBS check, which they should pay for. It can take up to 6 weeks for a DBS check to come back, and most support agencies recommend you wait for someone to start until that DBS check has come back. The DBS check will go directly to the employee. It is their document to keep (but it may not be transferable). You cannot directly ask to see it (but if they want to show you they can), but you can ask for your support agency’s independent living advisor to ask to look at it. They can refuse to show it. Again, not declaring convictions is also a valid reason for terminating employment.
It is up to you if you employ someone with convictions or not. For me I wouldn’t have an issue if someone had a motoring conviction as long as they weren’t driving me as part of their job – people make mistakes. But I would recommend you don’t take on someone who has any violent, sexual, theft, or fraud related convictions, as if they did do anything to you or your property and you knew about prior convictions it could invalidate your insurance.
If you already have a personal assistant in place, its helpful to have your new PA shadow them for a day. This helps them to see how tasks need to be completed. A few people have also suggested creating a one page profile – which can be a useful tool for both you and your PA to get to know each other. This works for some, but I prefer doing something else! I tried doing the one page profile and found it massively restrictive! Instead I made a care plan of my own (which I’m writing a blog about very soon!) – to guide about me, my condition, and what to do and not to do with me. It’s something they can then refer back to at a later date if needed. I’ve also written a list of tasks, and how often they need to be done. This is great way to keep track of tasks, especially if they’re time sensitive – like reminding to take medication.
Once someone has got their bearings around the house, how things work and where they go, I like to get to know them better by going for a chat and a coffee. This gives you a really good idea of what they’re like on a day to day basis, and gives you the chance to talk about any shared interests.
I cannot insist enough how important it is to have a probationary period. Even after the best of interviews, you may find that your PA does their job well but isn’t a good fit. This is why you need at least a month as the probationary period. This also needs to be written into the contract. At the end of this month it’s worth having an appraisal. Sounds scary, but it needn’t be! Its just a case of you sitting down and asking your PA what they felt has gone well and what hasn’t gone so well. Its also your opportunity to say the same. If they haven’t done well, you can either ask them to improve in certain areas and extend their probation by a month or you can give them notice (which needs to clearly set out the reasons why you are dismissing them).
There will always be disputes. Hopefully these will only be small ones. Easily solvable. Problems can become difficult to manage if they aren’t dealt with quickly. My advice would be firstly, to avoid situations which could cause disputes. Make sure you keep good records.
- Hours worked
- Sick days
- Tasks completed
- Date of payments and how much
- Annual leave.
If your PA works flexible hours, document what’s been arranged. This is often best done in an email, so you have evidence of it. Make sure you go over your house rules on the first day as part of their induction!
Secondly, try to nip disputes in the bud before they become big problems. You need to be able to both listen to your PAs concerns and give constructive criticism. This doesn’t do you license to slag them off! Speak to them in a calm and professional manner, pointing out the issue and offer suggestions to resolve it. Just sitting down and having a casual conversation over cup of coffee may make all the difference. Once problems are identified, they may be easily rectified.
You may need to issue warnings if you have repeated problems with your PA and changes not made. I would normally recommend only two warnings before dismissal. An alternative to this is speaking to ACAS. This is particularly good if your PA presents the issue, rather than yourself. They often act as a mediator between the employee and yourself to resolve the situation.
Keep In Mind…
I haven’t employed the right PA right every time. You can ask all the right questions. Hear the right answers. But once employed, you find they’re less than suitable for the role. No everyone is right for the job, and it can take time to find your right match. PAs are also human. Being an employer does not give you opportunity to treat them badly. This job is somebody’s livelihood. It’s how they put meals on the table for their kids. Of course it’s really important that you set up ground rules. But it’s also very important that you are as flexible as you expect your employee to be. I’m hoping by going through the process of how I employed my PAs, it will help you too!
For more information please have a look at the Skills for Care website