What is a private carer or personal assistant?
If you’ve decided on home care for later life, you don’t necessarily have to arrange it via a domiciliary care agency. Some people hire a private carer (also called a ‘self-employed carer’, ‘personal assistant’ or ‘personal care assistant’) to take on various responsibilities.
If you hire a personal assistant, you decide what the role will encompass. It will depend on your specific needs. For some, this will be personal care, such as help with washing, dressing or meal times. For others, it might involve help with getting out and about or household tasks like shopping and cooking. A personal assistant may also help with paying bills or managing a social care personal budget.
The pros and cons of using private carers
There are many reasons someone might want to hire a private carer rather than going through an agency, but there are some important factors to be aware of before you go down this route.
On the plus side:
- Hiring private carers can give you more flexibility and choice than arranging home care via an agency.
- It might give you more control over care arrangements.
- You’ll be able to choose a carer that’s compatible for you.
- You may save money on agency fees.
But there are negatives to consider:
- You are likely to take on employer responsibilities and legal obligations (see below).
- You might have to deal with disciplinary issues and possibly the dismissal of a person.
- You could be left without a replacement if the helper is absent from work, whereas an agency will usually find cover.
- If you’re not using an agency, you won’t have the added protection of staff training and vetting, or complaint procedures to resolve any issues.
- Organising care in this way isn’t monitored by the UK’s care regulators.
What are the legal issues when employing private carers?
If you hire someone to carry out care for you at home – paid by you personally or with direct payments from a local authority – it’s your responsibility to establish their employment status. In other words, are they a self-employed carer or will you be their employer?
If you employ an individual directly as a personal care assistant, who works solely for you and carries out your instructions, then you are probably the employer. If you employ an individual via a business, such as an agency, which has several employees and carries out work for more than one customer, the business will usually be the legal employer.
If a private carer wishes to be considered self-employed, they would need confirm this status with HRMC. An important point to consider is that employment status is not a choice. There have been cases where a court has ruled that a carer who was previously considered ‘self-employed’ is legally an employee.
Use the online Gov.uk service to check employment status. If you are legally classed as an employer, this brings with it certain responsibilities.
Your responsibilities if you become an employer
Register as an employer
If you’re employing someone, you will have to register with HMRC as an employer. Read more on how to do this on the Gov.uk website.
You’ll need to operate PAYE if the employee earns over a certain amount – the lower earnings limit is £120 per week in 2020/21. If an employee earns more than this amount, you’ll need to deduct Income Tax from their pay.
Depending on how much they earn above this limit, you may also need to deduct National Insurance (NI) from their pay and make employer’s NI contributions. For more information on NI thresholds, see the Gov.uk website.
Carry out employee checks
Before employing someone, you must check they are legally entitled to work in the UK. To establish this, you can either:
- Check the applicant’s original documents (such as their passport). Use the government’s online tool to identify which documents give someone the right to work in the UK. You should make copies of the documents, and record the date you made the check.
- Check their right to work online. You’ll need their date of birth and a right to work share code.
Individual personal assistants don’t have to be registered with one of the care regulators. However, if you’re employing a personal care assistant, you should check that they have had relevant training (for example, QCFs, or their predecessor, NVQ qualifications), including training in lifting and manual handling.
Do a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check
You can accept a previously issued certificate, but you must check that the applicant’s identity matches the details on the certificate, and the certificate is of the right level and type for the role applied for.
How much you must pay in salary depends on the age of your personal assistant. From 1 April 2020 a carer aged 25 or older must be paid at least the National Living Wage of £8.72 per hour. The National Minimum Wage applies to younger employees and is £8.20 an hour for people between the ages of 21 and 24 years, and £6.45 per hour for people aged 18 to 20 years.
Be aware that to get reliable and experienced personal care assistants, you may need to pay well above the National Minimum Wage.
Working time and holidays
Most employees can’t be required to work more than an average of 48 hours a week unless they expressly agree otherwise with you. Most employees are also entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. See Gov.uk for more details.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
There is no statutory limit on the amount of time employees may take off due to sickness or injury. If eligible, the employee will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks in any three-year period. The rate of SSP is £95.85 a week for 2020-21.
Notice and dismissal
After one month’s employment, employees are entitled to one week’s minimum period of notice, rising by one week for each year of service up to a maximum of 12 weeks.
All employees have a right not to be unfairly dismissed. Any potential reasons for dismissal should be clearly communicated to an employee before they start working for you. ACAS offers more information about notice and dismissal.
Protection from discrimination
Job applicants and employees have the right not to be discriminated against because of age, disability, gender, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Equalities legislation also limits the circumstances when you can ask health-related questions before offering someone a job.
Acas provides information to help you check you’re following discrimination law.
Employers must take out employers’ liability insurance and have the option to add public liability insurance, which provides cover for personal injury or damage to property belonging to a third party following negligence by an employer.
Find out more about employers’ liability insurance.
Employers must give employees the chance of joining a workplace pension. If a personal care assistant is aged between 22 and the state pension age, and earns more than £192 per week on your ‘staging date’, you need to provide a pension scheme. For more on the staging date and compulsory employer contributions, see the Pensions Regulator’s guide.
Read the Which? guide to pension auto-enrolment.
How to find a private carer
There are a few ways to go about finding a private carer.
Word of mouth: many people find a self-employed carer simply through word of mouth. Ask friends and relatives if they have anyone they could recommend and you'll often end up with a list of names.
Write an advert: placing an advert in a local paper, shop window, a local college or university, or on a classified ads website such as Gumtree, or community website such as Nextdoor, is another good way to find a private carer. Your local Jobcentre Plus will also advertise your job for free.
Introductory agency: a private introductory agency can also help you find and recruit a suitable carer or personal care assistant. Remember to check the fees the agency charges for this service. If the recruitment process is successful, the worker would be employed by you.
Skills for Care has a useful guide on recruiting a personal assistant.
How to interview private carers
If you’re happy to go ahead and employ a private carer, meeting someone in person for an informal interview can give you a good idea of whether they will be suitable or not. Does the person seem caring, friendly and trustworthy? Are they someone you could get on with?
Be sure to shortlist two or three candidates, if you can, to give you a range of people to choose from.
Questions to ask at the interview
- What experience do you have of this kind of work?
- Tell me about similar work you have done in the past.
- What training have you undertaken? Do you have any specialist skills?
- How much do you charge?
- Do you work weekends/bank holidays and if so are rates different on those days?
- How frequently would you like to be paid (weekly or monthly) and by what method?
- What happens if you can’t come in, for example due to illness, accident or bad weather?
- Could anyone suitable come in your place?
Our checklist of questions to ask a home care agency may give you ideas for further questions you would like to ask.
Be clear about rules
Before the interview, make a list of any ‘rules of employment’ you want them to abide by. Discuss these up front to gauge how each carer feels about them.
Examples might include:
- How much notice they must give if they’re unable to come to work.
- You want them to complete a timesheet and/or a regular report to keep track of the care and any issues that arise.
- They’re not allowed to bring anyone else with them unless by prior arrangement.
- No smoking in the house.
- Who they should contact if they can’t get into your home or if there’s an accident.
References and contracts
When you've found someone you want to hire, request references (preferably written) from their previous two employers.
Write a simple job description, detailing their specific duties, so they’ll be clear about what’s required of them. Employees have the right to receive a written statement of their terms of employment within two months of starting work. It’s good practice to draw up a contract before the employee starts which includes all the required information.
Gov.uk provides information about what to include in a contract. It’s best to take legal advice on this, or your local council might also offer advice on what to do.
If you want to avoid the responsibilities of being an employer, one alternative is to use a service broker who can act as an intermediary. Brokers help to arrange the support that you need, and assist with recruitment and employment issues. Your local authority or local Age UK might be able to recommend a broker in your area.
If you’re finding it difficult to manage, home care can provide the support you need to stay independent at home.
Live-in care helps you to stay in your own home rather than move to a care home. Find out if it could be right for you.
If you are eligible, government funding for home care may be available. We explain the means test and other rules.