We caught up with Renee Jasper-Griffith, author of The Good PA Guide, who has some top tips for personal assistants who are taking on new clients in this New Year…
New Year - new job opportunities for PAs
This year sees the implementation of the Care Act 2014. This new piece of legislation ensures people have a legal right to control how they manage their health and social care support needs via what is known as a ‘personal budget’. It also requires local authorities (social services) to be responsible for ensuring people have information and guidance to help them choose what support they want. This includes advising clients about the role of a personal assistant which is becoming an increasingly popular option, and so new job opportunities are likely.
Top 3 tips on what to do if you are starting a new job as a personal assistant (PA)
There are an increasing number of people who would prefer not to be an employer and would rather contract a PA on a self-employed basis to provide their support. I’ll be outlining what may be the differences and similarities of how an employed or self-employed PA can make use of the following tips.
To set the scene…you’ve been to an interview or met with a new client and they want you to start supporting them as soon as possible. You or the person needing support may have been nervous at the interview or you both may have just wanted to see if you’d get along and did not discuss your role in detail. Always remember, the role of a PA should be as flexible as possible for both parties and will develop over time.
1. Clarifying your role with your client
The employed PA – It is likely you will have answered an advert that had a job description, or you may have agreed to start to work for a friend who has decided to use their personal budget to employ you as their PA. Never assume that the role described in an advert is set in stone and remember if you have known the person as a friend, you must put a ‘different hat on’ when you are being paid to support them. Start by understanding your professional obligations and boundaries as an employee – but don’t think that this means you can’t be friends with your ‘boss’!
The self-employed PA – You have ensured you are registered as self-employed with HMRC and adequately insured as a sole trading PA. Mrs X has phoned you to see if you are available to do a few hours a week supporting her elderly mother. You agree to meet with both of them to see if you can undertake the role as self-employed and to see if you’ll be the right person (with the right training) to support Mrs X’s mother. For example if Mrs X’s mother has high needs, requires personal care and the hours that you are undertaking this work are set as certain times of each day by Mrs X, it is likely this would be an employed role. If Mrs X’s and or her mother would like you to take her to do a variety of things such as shopping, social engagements, domestic work or just companionship and that this arrangement is flexible for both of you, then you would be OK to be self-employed.
2. Questions to ask at the start
The employed PA – You should expect a contract of employment which outlines your duties, hours per week and pay. If you have not received one when starting your first day it is OK to ask when you will receive it as there may be other issues that the person has no control over. Ask if there is anything your new employer may not like you to do - again do not make assumptions that you can or can’t do things!
A few examples can be:
• Food and drink (will your employer supply these while you are on the job?) This can include if they mind you chewing gum as some people really don’t like it!
• Using your mobile (You are being paid to work and should not be chatting or texting on your mobile) If you need to use the phone or receive a call explain why and ask if it is OK
• Smoking or non-smoking and break times
The self-employed PA – All of the above can be applied to the role of the self-employed PA but instead of getting a contract of employment, you will need to discuss your terms and conditions with your client and give them a written copy of this which includes:
• Your agreed hourly rate and mileage charges
• Cancellation policy
• Complaints policy
• General terms and conditions of ‘ending’ the contract and ‘payment’ expectations (how often will you invoice them, how you can be paid, how soon after the invoice you would like payment)
3. Assess basic risks
Both the employed and self-employed PA should undertake a basic risk assessment with your client on your first day of work to ensure safety for both of you. You should have some idea of your role and perhaps have discussed some of these issues (such as transporting someone in your car or driving theirs) before you started. Potential hazards you should assess with a person in their home right at the start are:
• Who should you contact in case of an emergency (e.g. doctor, family member)
• Where are the basic household safety controls, such as water mains, electrical fuse box, gas mains, fire alarms (or extinguishers) and safe exits in case of a fire?
• Do you need to handle any hazardous substances? If so how are these disposed of or safely used?
• If you will be need to use specialist equipment or do any moving & handling, (of your client or any heavy objects) you should get appropriate training to do this. It is OK to say no if this was not agreed at the start and if you think you may hurt yourself or your client!
• The client may have pets, do they have any special requirements or are they OK to handle
• Does your client have any allergies you should know about?
• Are there any security details you should know about (answering the door, alarms etc.)
All of us are continually assessing risk and taking steps to minimise a hazard for ourselves. Would you jump out in front of a speeding lorry to cross the road? Because you are supporting someone else you will need to think of your clients’ needs and disabilities and how this may impact on how hazardous something may be. This can be as simple as crossing a road with your client to as complex as providing specialist support to someone with complex needs. As you get to know your client you will find you are continually looking at ways to help your client overcome risks and not create barriers to what they would like to do!
If you plan before you act everyone stays safe and happy!
You can find more of Renee’s advice in her book along with case studies, key learning points and thinking and practice activities to improve your understanding of the role and responsibility of a personal assistant as well as contributing to your QCF credits.
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