Employing a professional carer or personal assistant

If you're looking for a care worker to help you live independently at home, you may get one through your local health trust or a home care agency, or you may choose to employ someone directly.

What a professional carer can do for you

Professional carers have a variety of skills - some have nursing and first aid qualifications and others may be home helps or personal assistants. Examples of the type of tasks a carer might help with are:

  • cooking and cleaning
  • help with personal care like washing and using the toilet
  • driving or help with getting around
  • medical tasks like giving injections or changing a catheter
  • shopping, banking and paying bills

Options for professional home care

There are three basic arrangements for getting a professional carer:

1. You may have one provided by your local Trust, in which case everything is arranged for you.

2. You may ask a care agency to find you a suitable carer. This means you have to find and pay the care agency, but you don't take on any responsibilities as an employer because the carer works for the agency.

3. You may employ a carer directly. This option gives you more choice and control over who cares for you and what tasks they do, but it also means you have legal responsibilities as an employer.

Getting started - help from your local Trust

The first step towards getting the care you need is usually a health and social care assessment with the your local Trust. At the assessment, a specialist - usually an occupational therapist - will discuss your needs with you so the right support can be provided.

If the Trust agrees you need care at home, you can usually receive direct payments.

This means you can arrange and pay for your own care services instead of having them provided by the Trust.

Once you know how much your direct payments will be, you can work out how much to pay a carer and how many hours a week you would like them to work.

Your direct payments should meet your care needs, but if you want to use a more expensive care service or pay for extra hours, you can top them up yourself.

Writing a job description

Think about exactly what help you need before you employ someone or sign a contract with an agency. It may be helpful to think about a typical day for you and write a job description for your carer. This should include:

  • a list of all the tasks you may need help with
  • any particular skills or qualifications your care worker must have, for example, a nursing qualification or a full driving licence
  • an estimate of the number of hours and days you will need the person to work

A detailed job description can help home care agencies select a suitable carer for you.

If you're looking to employ a carer yourself, a job description will help people who are interested in applying to get a clear understanding of what the job involves.

Finding a carer through a home care agency

All home care agencies are regulated and inspected regularly by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA). This guarantees certain minimum standards of service. Home care agencies must also conduct AccessNI checks on all employees who will be working with people with disabilities.

Finding a carer yourself

Advertising the job

You can place job advertisements in your local Jobs and Benefits office for free. Local shops, supermarkets and voluntary organisations may also have noticeboards where you can place job advertisements.

Job advertisements should be brief and state:

  • the type of work involved
  • working hours
  • rate of pay
  • your contact details
  • the general area in which you live

For safety reasons, it's best to give your mobile phone number or a box number in your advertisement, rather than your address or home phone number.

Job interviews

Once you have received job applications, select the people you'd like to interview for the job. You can ask a friend or relative to go to the interviews, especially if they are taking place in your own home.

Before the interviews, you should prepare a list of questions that cover the key aspects of the job.

References and AccessNI checks

When you've decided who to offer the job to, you are responsible for checking they are suitable. You should always ask for and check out at least two references, including one from someone they've cared for previously.

Individual employers do not have to request an AccessNI check on any potential employee but you may still want to do this. You will need to ask your local Trust or a local voluntary organisation to make the request for information to AccessNI on your behalf.

Your responsibilities when employing a professional carer

If you employ a carer directly, you will take on certain responsibilities as an employer. This is the case regardless of whether you employ someone for a few hours a week or full-time.

Tax

As an employer you may be responsible for deducting tax and National Insurance from your employee's wages and paying them to HM Revenue & Customs together with your employer's National Insurance contribution. Whether you will have to do this depends on how much your employee earns.

Your local social services department may be able to help you with the paperwork for HM Revenue & Customs.

Paying your carer

You must pay your carer at least the National Minimum Wage.

If your carer lives with you, there are special rules for calculating the value of the accommodation you provide. You can count this amount as part of your employee's pay and it counts towards the National Minimum Wage.

Working hours, time off, sick pay and holiday pay

As an employee, your carer or personal assistant has an entitlement to:

  • rest breaks
  • a maximum number of working hours in any week
  • holiday pay
  • sick pay (in most cases)

You can find out more about your responsibilities for providing these things at the following pages:

Liability insurance

As an employer, you must take out:

  • Employer's liability insurance
  • Public liability insurance

Employer's liability insurance covers you if your carer has an accident or is injured while working for you (in cases where you might be held responsible).

Public liability insurance covers you for any damage or injury you or your carer cause to anyone else while your carer is working for you.

You can sometimes include employer's liability insurance and public liability insurance in a comprehensive household insurance policy.

If you get direct payments to pay for your care, your local Trust must discuss your arrangements to meet the cost of employer's liability insurance with you. 

Creating a written statement of employment

If you employ your carer for one month or more, you must give them a written statement of the terms and conditions of their employment within two months of them starting work for you. The statement must include:

  • pay
  • hours of work
  • holiday entitlement
  • sick pay arrangements
  • notice periods
  • information about disciplinary and grievance procedures

Respite care or short-term breaks

If you're usually cared for by a family member or relative, you may want to have a professional carer visit from time to time to give your regular carer a break. This is called 'respite care' and is usually provided by the social services department of your local Trust.

You would not usually have any employment responsibilities for a respite carer.

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