Mandy was determined to remain independent and employed personal assistants for support at her home
Mandy De La Mare knows what it’s like to need a bit of support.
When she and her husband separated, whilst expecting their first baby, she realized that her husband had been her main carer; but despite her disabilities and visual impairment, Mandy was determined to remain independent throughout her pregnancy and beyond. Rather than returning to live with her parents she decided to opt for assistance at home and now, years down the line, she has four personal assistants helping her during the week. Her story shows how employing a personal assistant can work.
Life with Personal Assistants
“A volunteer from the Thalidomide Trust suggested that I apply for Direct Payments to fund support at home,” Mandy explains. “They’d only just been introduced and I had to push hard to get the financial help I needed. I was also able to get some funding from Children’s Services to help with my baby for two years.”
“I was assessed and, at first was only granted a few hours of care. Social Services thought my mum would be able to provide the support I needed, which wasn’t really what we both wanted.”
“Gradually I got a bit more help and, these days I have four PAs who help me, Monday to Friday between half past seven in the morning and eight o’clock in the evening” she says.
“In the morning an assistant comes and gets me up and dressed. She takes my daughter to school and helps with routine things like emptying and filling the dishwasher.
During the day the next assistant comes and does things like taking me out shopping, or to appointments, cleaning the windows and curtains, ironing and preparing food.
Then, at the end of the day, the last assistant comes and clears away the tea things before helping me to get ready for bed.”
“My assistants help me out during the week, as my partner works away from home. He’s around at the weekends so we do our own thing then.”
“I’ve had six PAs altogether – some lasting longer than others.”
Recruiting a Personal Assistant
“Recruiting a PA is hard work”, says Mandy, “it’s really important to get the right kind of person. I look for someone who isn’t patronizing and is friendly, fun and outgoing – they have to be sociable.
It’s great if you have similar interests so you can talk about them together – like the books you’ve read or what you watch on TV. You soon become friends.”
“When I first recruited a PA I put an ad in the paper and also went through the Job Centre. Taking the Job Centre route wasn’t helpful – the people who applied weren’t really suitable, and didn’t really want the job. Then I was lucky as my cleaner’s daughter was looking for work and really wanted the job. She was with me for 13 years.”
“I interview applicants myself with someone from the council’s Direct Payments team sitting in. They organize the questions which is really helpful. Last time I recruited my partner helped me interview – using the Direct Payments person’s questions and taking notes.”
Being the boss
Mandy is a pretty laid back boss, when it comes to managing her PAs. “I’m probably not a very good boss, as I’m not very strict”, she laughs. “As long as people do the hours and do the jobs you ask them to do, that’s all I want. You do become friends – you can’t help it – but that can be difficult if you have to reprimand them or tell them they’re getting a bit lax. That has happened in the past and it became very awkward, with a bad atmosphere – which inevitably led to them leaving.”
“As far as the responsibility of being a manager goes, I use a payroll company and make sure I send them timesheets. They email back with the amounts I need to pay my PAs out of my Direct Payments, including National Insurance. They also take care of my other insurances. Luckily all my PAs are older so I don’t have to think about maternity leave” Mandy explains, “but sometimes one PA brings her child with her. I don’t mind that.”
Retaining personal assistants
Mandy has had no real problems keeping her PAs. “I work to the principle of ‘if they go with me, I’ll go with them’” she explains “It’s important if there’s flexibility on both sides – then they’re more likely to stay.”
“ I ask for my PAs’ help in a nice way, I’m not bossy or demanding – otherwise they’d feel like slaves.”
A supportive experience
Mandy is a veteran at employing personal assistants at home and is aware of the ups and downs of taking on paid staff. “It’s good,” she says “but recruitment is a nightmare. There don’t seem to be enough people out there who want this kind of work, even though the wages are ok.”
“When you get a good one, though, it makes a real difference.”
A final word of advice
“My biggest piece of advice to other beneficiaries looking for a PA is look for someone with a similar outlook, who’s friendly and up for a challenge. Make sure they’re sociable.” Says Mandy.
“And if you need help, use the Direct Payments service at your local council”, she adds “They’ll help with Gum Tree for recruitment and may have regular PAs on their books who could be just right for you.”
If you would like to learn more, visit our Employing A Personal Assistant section.