Employing a PA: What's it all about?

Employing a PA: What's it all about?

What is a PA (Personal Assistant)?

A PA (personal assistant) is employed by or on behalf of a person who lives independently with support. The person, sometimes with their family or friends, decides who and what they want from their PA - they are in control of their support and their lives. The cost of employing PAs is usually met by a personal budget from the local authority.

A relationship first of all

The job of PA is usually only partly about the practical aspects of supporting someone to live independently. A big part of the job is supporting them to share the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as anyone else by becoming known in the person’s community. This is all about building relationships.

"You make a difference by building a relationship that supports a person to act as a contributing citizen."
John O’Brien and Beth Mount, ‘Make a Difference: A Guidebook for Person centred Direct Support’ 2005, Inclusion Press

It’s also about being able to find out what opportunities and possibilities are ‘out there’ in the community for the employer. It’s about finding out how open and welcoming the community is and sensitively finding or creating opportunities with the employer.

How this happens depends on each individual with the support of their family and friends, personal assistants (PAs) or other trusted supporters. The big advantage to employing your own PA (or having a family member doing this on your behalf) is that you are in charge. But it comes with responsibilities too. There is no ‘middle’ person, employer or provider that takes away some of the control you have over your support. It means the arrangement can be entirely personalised to you. But you have to work at it to make things happen as well as they can!

What do you want from a PA?

Before you are given a personal budget the local authority will have agreed your support plan with you. This will include details of what support you are likely to need. Thinking about what you want from a PA, when you want them to work, and the kind of person you want, will help you come up with a more detailed ‘job description’ and ‘person spec’. The job description lists the jobs you want your PA to do. The person spec describes the kind of person you want to be your PA.

What some families have said about employing PAs


"A good PA isn't necessarily someone who has impressive qualifications on paper - of course good training is very important… but the greatest skills are being an effective listener, having empathy, tolerance, understanding, shared interests and a good sense of humour."
Family member

"(Taking on a personal budget) meant stepping away from the traditional view of support and one that I was happy to leave behind; one in which people may be cared for, sometimes patronised, sometimes abused, more often isolated and usually not seen as anything other than a burden.

"I saw having a personal budget (to employ PAs) as an opportunity to enable my son to have choice and control in his life, to develop meaningful relationships, make a contribution to his community and the lives of other people, to do more than just exist."
Jo Whitehead, Family member and PA employer

"For my son, having his own place and employing PAs he has chosen is a world away from where and how he lived before. Now he’s known and respected in his street – he gets involved in the annual street party, volunteers at a city centre music venue and at a fortnightly conservation project and has friends and family round for meals or games evenings and barbecues in the summer. He does ordinary!!"
Alison Cowen, Family member who employs PAs on behalf of her son

So, what makes a good PA for you?

Many PA employers say that what they look for in a good PA is not qualifications or experience but the personal and human qualities the person has to offer that will mean a positive and enjoyable relationship between the person and their PA.

It also depends what you want your PA to support you with. For example, if you have a passion for zumba and want support to go to classes, you may want to advertise for someone who shares your passion and can do the class with you. You will both enjoy the arrangement more than if your PA watches from the sidelines!

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