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Senior managers: Elderly employers and their care workers

Hiring a personal care worker can be liberating for elderly or infirm people and an increasing number of people are needing or choosing to fund their own homecare. For many, taking on a personal assistant is their first experience of being an employer, and it's an atypical one at that. The intimate and home-based nature of the work can set up a unique and sometimes challenging employment relationship.

Latest figures suggest that around 170,000 people aged 65 and over are purchasing care at home privately in England, buying a total of around 1.4 million hours' care a week. The value of this is reckoned at £1.4 billion per annum. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of private homecare time is purchased on a live-in basis.

Uncertainties are bound to arise about many of the responsibilities and legal obligations that hiring a personal care worker entails. Conversely, carers themselves are often unsure about their rights and what is expected of them, particularly when living in their employer's home.

As in any employment relationship, good communication is the basis of a successful arrangement. First off, a clear job description and written statement of terms and conditions help both parties understand the scope and limits of the service. Discussing this at regular intervals will help highlight what might need to be improved and what is working well. If a problem does arise, then being able to bring up any issues openly and honestly will make it easier to find a solution quickly.

An unusual feature of care working is that relatives often have a role to play in the employment relationship. They may be a particularly important point of contact if the employer dies. In these cases, outstanding wages, redundancy pay or holiday pay would have to be paid out of the estate. Relatives can explain the situation to employees and let them know when they can expect to be paid or pass on their details to the executor if it is someone else.

Acas provides advice and guidance on Employing personal care workers and gives training on the fundamentals of employing people, including how to approach Contracts and terms and conditions.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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