Description of the Personal Assistant (PA)

What is a Personal Assistant (PA)?

The Independent Living Movement has campaigned for many years for disabled people to have the right to have choice and control over their own lives and the assistance needed to live those lives to the fullest. The role of the Personal Assistant emerged from that campaign. Personal Assistance is a fundamental necessity to enable people to live a full independent life. Independent living means having the same choices and control in everyday lives that non-disabled people take for granted. Personal Assistants (PAs) are people who support their disabled employer to live an independent life.

The disabled employer directs how tasks should be completed by the Personal Assistant. A Personal Assistant does not generally assist with making decisions or choices but assists their employer in meeting identified outcomes. The main difference between a Personal Assistant and a paid carer/ support worker is that the PA is accountable to their disabled employer, who, in turn is responsible for the welfare and safety of the PA, as well as their conditions of employment. PAs should have access to training and support and receive a contract of employment (or contract of service if self employed), detailing their terms and conditions, including rate of pay, holiday entitlement, pension enrolment (if applicable), etc.

PAs are a much valued and vital part of the health and social care workforce. PAs assist a wide variety of people including older people, disabled people, people with mental health problems, people with learning disabilities and children. All will have been assessed as needing assistance to enable them to live their life the way they want to. Employed PAs have the same rights, responsibilities and benefits of any other employee. PAs can also operate on a self-employed basis (check out the article What’s the Difference Between an Employed and Self-Employed PA?)

The tasks can range from personal tasks, such as eating, washing or dressing, assisting with household tasks, or other tasks, such as guiding, reading, carrying or moving items or driving. Previous experience is not necessary, but getting the right match between Employer and PA is key. The exact make-up of the job and the duties required of each role should be fully explained at the job interview stage and will be personalised to the individual employer.

Being a PA can mean working as part of a team, or working on a one-to-one basis. Full time and part time temporary or long-term roles are available and a PA can work for more than one employer.

Next steps

Take a look at some of our case study stories to see how varied a PA’s role can be, and the difference it can make.

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Last Updated
06 February 2024
First Published
01 April 2022
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Please note that the information contained in this Handbook is provided for guidance purposes only. Every reasonable effort is made to make the information accurate and up to date, but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by Self Directed Support Scotland or any other contributing party.

The information does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal and professional advice from a lawyer about employment law matters, or an accountant/ tax specialist about taxation matters, and from HMRC and your insurers. You should not rely solely on the information in this Handbook. Support organisations listed in this Handbook can help you find appropriate sources of advice.