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What is a Personal Assistant?

A PA is a personal assistant or support worker who provides assistance to a disabled person in day-to-day living. There is no one single job description, as no one person’s needs are the exactly the same. The PA’s role is to support the employer as an individual to live the way they choose, which can vary depending on the employer’s lifestyle and needs. A personal assistant needs to understand the service user’s requirements and be should enable them to lead an equal and independent life.

A personal assistant needs to be able to work flexibly, have good communication skills, respect people’s dignity and be willing to learn.

Some examples of what a PA’s role might cover include:

• Personal care, such as assisting with dressing, bathing, toileting.
• Domestic tasks, such as preparing meals, helping with post, tidying, shopping.
• Social activities, such as supporting to go out to meeting people, educational courses, going out to the cinema.

It may be helpful to understand that there is a difference between that of a Care Assistant and a Personal Assistant. Although differing posts have varying requirements the general role of a personal assistant is the same. A personal assistant’s role is to help you to live the way you choose. This means that a personal assistant should listen to their employer to understand and respond positively to any reasonable request for assistance. It enables disabled people to lead an individual, independent life equal to that of non-disabled people.

Employing someone

Users of direct payments can employ anyone to provide support, with the exception of close family who live in the same home. As an employer you write the job description, set the working hours and establish rules. While this has many positives, as an employer you also have responsibilities for paying your PA, dealing with tax etc.

The Direct Payments Support Service can help with arranging to employ a personal assistant. We provide a payroll service and can support with advertising for and interviewing potential PA’s. We also provide support with setting up and renewing liability insurance and general advice and troubleshooting.

Self-Employed Personal Assistants

Self-employed personal assistants are PA’s who you can contract with to work for you, but are considered their own employer and are treated as a business owner. This means that they themselves are responsible for dealing with their own tax, National Insurance contributions, insurance etc. It is recommended that you seek advice before considering taking on someone claiming to be self-employed, as you will need to check they have the relevant checks in place.

If you use a self-employed PA you are essentially purchasing services much like you would if you were using an agency. The PA would set their own range of services that they offer and invoice you for them.

You need to proceed with caution when using a self-employed personal assistant. You should obtain proof that they are self-employed by asking for their unique tax reference number and by using the Employment Indicator Status tool on the HM Revenue and Customs website.

Using an Agency

There are a number of agencies that provide paid carers/ personal assistants. You can use your direct payment to purchase the service. One of the advantages of using an agency is that agencies usually have a bank of support workers to provide someone who meets your criteria. It also means they can provide flexible support if one PA is sick, for instance.

As the agency acts as the employer they cover responsibilities such as payroll, tax and other paperwork. The agency will set the job description and rules for the PA and invoice you for services.  It would be advisable to gain information from the outset around their terms and conditions such as rates they charge, expenses payable etc


You can pick an agency of your choice and meet with them before you agree to them supporting you.

An agency worker will attend at the times you specify, if the agency worker happens to be off sick or takes some holiday the agency will arrange someone else to attend.
The agency has all of the responsibilities of being the employer, rather than you employing a support worker.

There are different ways you can pay an agency, by cheque or bank transfer. Either way an agency should provide you with an invoice of support you have received.

If something goes wrong say for example a support worker doesn’t turn up or you don’t get on with someone, you can call their office to talk things through.


You have to trust the agencies decision on the suitability of a worker.

You don’t always get the same person supporting you. This can be difficult especially where personal care is involved.

Agency workers often have more than one person to support throughout the day therefore you may feel rushed because they have to get to their next service user.

Agency workers are sometimes limited with the duties they can carry out for you. For example some agency workers would not be able to work up a height i.e. to change a light bulb.

Agency rates can be high, often charging the full direct payment rate and enhanced rates on a weekend. Any expenses would be charged in addition to the hourly rate such as mileage.

An agency can get your bill incorrect, it is advised that you check through all of your invoices.

Using an Agency to employ a person of your choice

You can sometimes arrange for someone you would like to be your PA to be taken on and employed by a care agency. It will be down to the agencies discretion as to whether they will accept the individual, as they would essentially be recruiting them as their staff.

Using Your DP Flexibly

The aim of direct payments is to let people personalize the support they receive in a way that is tailored to the individual. Direct payments can be very flexible and many people find their own creative ways of addressing their needs.

For example, some people who receive direct payments may decide to pool their direct payments hours/ money together to share a group of PA’s. Alternatively people who receive direct payments may bank their hours when a PA is on holiday or off sick or sometimes to use their hours for different activities and support, which may have alternative times and durations. However this needs to be monitored carefully to make sure the direct payment is being used correctly.  

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