What is a Personal Assistant?

A Personal Assistant, or PA, is someone who is employed by an individual with care or support needs, who is in receipt of a personal budget. Personal Assistants are a large part of the personalisation agenda in social care. Personalisation is about ensuring care and support is delivered in a more person-centred way and tailored to the needs of individuals.

Prior to the introduction of personal budgets and Personal Assists, a person with care needs would have their services arranged by social care services. This would mean someone would usually get their care and support from a care organisation (e.g. home care service, day centre, care home). Now people are encouraged to directly employ a person or service.

If you want to work in Social Care and enjoy building relationships with people, working as a Personal Assistant can give you the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. Personal Assistants increase independence, enabling and sustaining the rights of individuals to make choices about how they live their lives. Personal Assistants at their best have the potential to improve the quality of life of people using services.

What does a Personal Assistant do?

Personal Assistants undertake a wide range of care and support tasks for a single employer, rather than personal care tasks for a larger number of people. They tend to work in isolation rather than as part of a team, unlike most residential or domiciliary care staff. Their role requires a wider range of skills and is harder to define than other social care roles.

The following are some common Personal Assistant tasks:

  • Personal care, washing and bathing
  • Cooking and preparing food
  • Assisting with meeting people, socialising and leisure activities
  • Shopping
  • Getting into and out of bed and chairs
  • Taking or injecting medicine
  • Getting to and using the toilet
  • Assisting with banking, paying bills, collecting pensions or benefits

There are opportunities to work with lots of different people: men or women, young or old, people who like sport or people that prefer art; people that require help with all aspects of their life or people that require help with only small parts of their life. A person may need help from a Personal Assistant because of: a physical disability, a mental illness, a learning disability, or frailty. A person may: be blind or partially sighted; be deaf or have hearing loss; or may be a carer for someone else.

What skills and experience do I need to become a Personal Assistant?

You don't need previous experience. You need the right attitude and should be willing to learn.

The skills and experience requested by individual employers will differ. Employers will set out the requirements for prospective Personal Assistants in the job description.  Due to the close working nature of care, sometimes other things may be more important than actual skills and experience. For instance a Personal Assistant needs to be reliable, punctual, efficient and flexible. Because the Personal Assistant will be involved in the everyday personal life of their employer, they will need to be loyal and discrete. There will need to be respect and understanding on both sides between the Personal Assistant and employer.

Some training may be needed, for example in lifting and handling, personal care or basic food hygiene. Or the Personal Assistant and the employer may decide that for personal development, the Personal Assistant should have a formal qualification such as offered by the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF). For more details on training for Personal Assistants visit the training section.

Employers may ask Personal Assistants to have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check before they start working for them. CRB checks can be completed by the local authority at the request of an employer. Employers can arrange this via the Direct Payment Support Service.

A Personal Assistant's view

Personal Assistant and employer drinking in cafe

A Personal Assistant explains the types of the things they do in their job and why they like the job:

'I have been working as a Personal Assistant for a young man for 18 months now. He has a form of autism that makes establishing social relationships very difficult. This is further complicated with some mental health issues. When I began the job he was an in-patient in a Mental Health Hospital. However, we were gradually able to build a relationship, and after 9 months he was well enough to be discharged, and with good support in the community, he took up residence in his own flat in Newcastle, a city that he loves.

'I spend 10 hours a week with him over three days. Together we enjoy meals out, museums, art galleries, train trips, coffee shops, visits to the cinema and theatre. Every day is different! Sometimes there are communication problems but with patience, being flexible and willing to be led by him, it's a satisfying job. Best of all, is knowing he is in a better place, and a more hopeful situation.'

How can I become a Personal Assistant?

Personal Assistant vacancies in Newcastle are advertised by the Direct Payment Support Service and at University Job Shops.


Training and support for Personal Assistants

Personal Assistants should discuss their learning and development needs with their employer. Alternatively Personal Assistants may wish to independently access learning and development opportunities to further develop themselves.

If employers complete a National Minimum Data Set Social Care (NMDS-SC) return they are eligible for funding for their Personal Assistant to access (Qualification Credit Framework) QCF courses. If you are an employer interested in getting funding for training, please see the information for employers section below.

Personal Assistants can access multi-agency Safeguarding Adults, Mental Capacity Act, and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards Training. There are different ways to learn: e-learning; workbook; or face-to-face training. All opportunities are free of charge.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) has a number of free e-learning modules that can be accessed by anyone. The modules cover topics such as: mental capacity; parental substance misuse; personalisation; and dementia. Find out more information on the e-learning modules.

Employers and Personal Assistants may want to access training provided by private providers. There are a range of private providers in Newcastle. If you are an employer, you can contact The Direct Payment Support Service who will be able to discuss potential providers with you.

Other frequently asked questions

What makes a good Personal Assistant?
A good Personal Assistant is someone who listens to their employer and won't try to take control. A good Personal Assistant will negotiate with their employer around practical difficulties.

How much are Personal Assistants paid?
Personal Assistants are paid an hourly rate that is set by their employer. The rate may depend on the employer's individual personal circumstances.

Can a Personal Assistant be Self-Employed?
Personal Assistants are not usually self-employed. HM Revenue & Customs have guidelines about what they will and will not class as self-employment. View the self-employment guidelines.

Is a Personal Assistant entitled to paid holidays and sick pay?
Yes. Personal Assistants are entitled to the same statutory holidays as any other workers. Holiday Pay is worked out depending on how many hours you work. If you pay National Insurance (NI), you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

Resources for Personal Assistants

  • The Department of Health has produced a booklet called 'Working for personalised care: A framework for supporting personal assistants working in adult social care'. Download this booklet (PDF, 1031KB).
  • Skills for Care North West and Manchester City Council have produced a booklet called 'Getting Started: A Guide for Personal Assistants'. Download this booklet (PDF, 1946KB).

Information for employers of Personal Assistants

The National Minimum Data Set - Social Care (NMDS-SC) is a database of information about the social care workforce. It includes information submitted by large employers like Care Homes and Council's as well as small employers, like employers of Personal Assistants. The information is used, confidentially, to make policy decisions on how to support employers and staff in delivering quality services.

To enable Skills for Care to inform government policy and funding, they need to gather as much information as possible about the adult social care workforce. They are therefore encouraging people who are employing their own staff to provide care to complete the NMDS-SC. 

This includes people who are employing their own staff to provide care and support services either for themselves, or for another person for whom they have a carer role. Skills for Care have put together some frequently asked questions about the NMDS-SC for employers of Personal Assistants. View the Skills for Care frequently asked questions.

Skills for Care have also produced guidance for people completing the NMDS-SC return or alternatively you can call the helpline on 0845 873 0129. View the online NMDS-SC return guidance.

If you are an employer and you would like to complete an NMDS-SC return you will need to register. Register online. 

For further help and advice, please contact: NMDS-SC Helpline 0845 873 0129

Contacts for more information

Newcastle City Council
0191 278 8377 (Adult Social Care Direct)

Disability North Direct Payments Support Service
Provide support for employers of Personal Assistants, as well as advertising current Personal Assistant vacancies. 
0191 284 0480

Help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and working with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance.

Personal Assistants Network
Information and advice for Personal Assistants and those who employ them

Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE)
Useful information, resources and best practice related to social care, health and housing.

Page last updated: 
23 March 2016
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