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Employing Support Workers in Higher Education-A guide for students


1. Introduction

This booklet provides guidance about getting assistance from different types of helpers or support workers in higher education. The booklet looks at ways to arrange this support and some of the things to think about if you choose to employ your own assistant.

This guide does not constitute legal advice. For more information on legal employment matters, contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service ( ACAS) - see Section 8 for contact details.

Who is this booklet for?

This booklet is written for students who will receive the 'non-medical personal help' allowance as part of the Disabled Students' Allowance available from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland ( SAAS). This allowance helps to meet the extra disability-related costs of studying. You may receive this allowance to pay for support workers such as:

  • scribes - someone writing down what you say in examinations, tests and assignments
  • communication support workers - support deaf and hard of hearing students by using sign language, notetaking and lipspeaking, as well as offering general support
  • lipspeakers - listen to spoken words and silently repeat them
  • notetakers - take notes in lectures. Notetakers should usually have some knowledge of the subject
  • readers - will read written material aloud or record material on to tape
  • sign language interpreters - interpret the spoken words of others into British Sign Language or Sign Supported English and interpret sign language into spoken words
  • speech to text operators - are trained operators who type a transcript which you can read on your own visual display unit ( VDU)
  • laboratory assistants
  • study skills/dyslexia tutors - provide assistance with study strategies
  • transcribers - converting core texts into an alternative format

Disabled Students' Allowance ( DSA) will pay for the costs outlined in your application to SAAS or, if SAAS asked you to have a needs assessment, DSA will meet the costs outlined in your needs assessment final report up to the maximum amounts.

Support for daily living needs

This booklet does not provide information about getting assistance to meet your daily living needs. This is the type of support you may need even if you were not studying, such as washing and cleaning. This daily living support is mainly funded by the social work department where you normally live or through the Independent Living Fund. Disabled Students' Allowance does not pay for these costs.

If you have been receiving services from your social work department before starting your course, you should arrange with your social worker or care manager to be reassessed, as your needs may well change when you are studying. For example, you may be used to receiving a large amount of assistance from relatives or friends. This support may no longer be available when you go to university or college. You should ask for a reassessment as soon as possible before you start your course, as it may take some time to get suitable arrangements in place.

If you are taking a course in a further education college, you may want to read 'Supporting you at college' for information about who is responsible for providing what type of support - see Section 8 for details.

Terms used in this guide

This guide will use the term 'support worker' to refer to all different types of people in higher education who provide assistance to disabled students.

The term 'institution' is used throughout the booklet to refer to both colleges and universities that offer higher education courses.

2. Getting advice and support from your institution

Disability Adviser

Every institution has a named member of staff whose job it is to advise disabled students and make arrangements for their support. Their title is usually 'Disability Co-ordinator', 'Learning Support Adviser' or 'Disability Adviser' and their contact details should be given in the institution's disability statement, website or prospectus. You can also find their contact details on Skill's website.

If you have not already made contact with the Disability Adviser in your institution, it is important to do so as soon as possible. They can help make arrangements for additional support that you may need and negotiate with other agencies or individuals on your behalf. They can also tell you about any arrangements in your institution for employing support workers.

Your institution's responsibilities

Your college or university has a responsibility, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that you are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled students. This can include all sorts of adjustments, such as providing equipment or services. Your institution is also responsible for ensuring that you have appropriate access to the buildings you need to use, within reason, and that adjustments are made to teaching practices and assessments where required.

Your institution is not expected to pay for the same disability support costs that are met through Disabled Students' Allowance ( DSA). However, if not all of your needs are met through DSA, then within reason the institution should provide the additional support that you need. To discuss arrangements for getting support or adjustments, you should arrange to meet with the Disability Adviser in your institution.

For more information about your rights under the Disability Discrimination Act, see the Skill booklet, 'The Disability Discrimination Act' or contact the Skill Scotland Information Service.

3. Arranging a support worker in higher education

There is no single way in which disabled students get support workers in higher education, and the way in which you get your assistance will depend upon the institution you attend and what suits you best.

Some of the most common ways in which disabled students find support workers are listed below:

Support workers employed by institution

Many institutions have staff who are specifically employed to support individual disabled students. You can find out if your institution employs support workers by asking the Disability Adviser.

There are many advantages of using support workers who are employed by the institution. The institution takes responsibility for recruiting and managing the staff, and for paying them. If the support workers leave or are not suitable, the institution will make arrangements to replace them. If you choose to use support workers employed by the institution, it is important to ensure that arrangements are in place for reviewing if the service is working well and if any adjustments are needed. You can ask SAAS to pay DSA directly to your institution or to your support worker.

Some of the support workers are employees of the university, usually current postgraduate students. Each support worker invoices SAAS for the work undertaken and SAAS then pay them directly. Other support workers used by students are organised through an agency, who then invoice SAAS.

Private agencies

Private agencies can be useful ways to get support workers. The agency takes on the responsibilities of being the employer, and they will usually fill any gaps, for instance if your usual support worker becomes ill or needs some time off. It is useful to make a written agreement with the agency about the assistance that they will provide, and then to discuss with them regularly about how the service is working. The Disability Adviser may be able to recommend a local agency that students have used in the past or an agency that has experience of working with people in an academic environment.

Specialist agencies

If you need specialist workers such as sign language interpreters, it may not be possible to find suitable people at your institution. If this is the case, then you will probably need to use a specialist agency. The Disability Adviser may know of agencies in the local area and you could also contact the local social work department for information. Other organisations may keep registers of qualified people, such as Dyslexia Scotland who have a register of dyslexia tutors, or the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters who keep a register of sign language interpreters. Contact details for some relevant organisations are in Section 8.

Deaf Connections is a charity based in Glasgow that can provide sign language interpreters, notetakers and lip speakers to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. Many students use different kinds of assistants from this charity and Disabled Students' Allowance is then paid direct to Deaf Connections for the work undertaken. Contact details are in Section 8.

Community Service Volunteers ( CSV)

CSV is the national volunteer agency that recruits full-time volunteers to help disabled people live independently. CSVs are often recent graduates or are planning to go to college or university, so they have an interest in or experience of the education environment. CSVs are intended to supplement other support that you have in place. You may want to talk to the Disability Adviser to see if they already use CSVs for other students.

Institutions with volunteer schemes

Some institutions operate their own volunteer schemes for support workers such as notetakers or readers. The volunteers on these schemes are often students themselves, recent graduates or people planning to go to university. They will often have no previous experience but many receive some training when they join the scheme. The institution usually makes the initial arrangements with the volunteers so you do not have to, but you will want to have a written agreement to make sure you get the support that you need.

Employing your own support worker

By employing your own support worker, you get complete choice over who assists you. As the employer, you can also set the standards and procedures you want people to work to. You may already employ your own support workers for daily living needs through Direct Payments from social work - if so, employing your own support workers in education may fit well with these arrangements.

However, operating your own personal assistance involves a great deal of organisation. You will have to be able to explain your needs and be able to handle the responsibility of being an employer.

Sections 4-7 of this booklet have information about employing your own support worker.

4. Recruiting your own support worker

Finding your own support worker

  • Registers of support workers

Many institutions have a register or directory of support workers who they can call upon to meet the needs of disabled students. The register often includes assistants such as qualified dyslexia tutors, communication support workers and students or staff who have simply expressed an interest in working with disabled students. The Disability Adviser will know if such a register exists in your institution.

  • Advertising for support workers

You may be able to find people to help with tasks such as reading and notetaking in your department, perhaps a postgraduate student. There will probably be departmental noticeboards where you can advertise. You could also advertise around the institution, for example, on noticeboards in the students' union, in your institution's employment agency or job shop, and in your college or university student newspaper. Other places where you could place adverts include Jobcentre Plus, local newspapers, libraries and careers offices. Local groups of disabled people may also be able to help with ideas of where is best to advertise in your area. Centres for Independent Living can help with each stage of advertising for a support worker.

Advice about advertising

Do not put your address in the advert - it may not be a good idea to advertise where you live. Providing a phone number and/or email address allows you to screen callers and to eliminate unsuitable applicants.

You should provide some idea in the advert of what the job will involve. If you know what hours or how many hours a week you need someone, list them. You should also state the rate of pay and whether you want someone who has previous experience of this type of work.

If you are placing a written advertisement it must not contravene employment law by discriminating on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or religion. It will also be unlawful to discriminate against people for age-related reasons from 1 October 2006. Further advice on acceptable wording of advertisements is available from ACAS or your local centre for independent living.

Interviewing support workers

It is often best to interview possible support workers somewhere other than your home. You could ask the Disability Adviser to arrange a room for the interviews, you could use an office within the students union, or alternatively you may be able to use space within a local Independent Living Centre.

Before the interview, it is helpful to prepare a list of the key questions you want to ask each applicant, and anything you would want to tell them about the job. It may also be helpful to have someone else, such as another student who currently uses support workers, the Disability Adviser or a friend, to attend the interviews with you.

Anne wanted to interview three other students from her institution to decide which one to employ as a notetaker for her lectures. She arranged with the student association to borrow one of their meeting rooms as it was handy for both her and the applicants. Her friend sat in the interviews with her, and discussed with her afterwards about who to employ.

Work agreements

If you employ your own support worker, it is a legal duty to provide them with a contract of employment within 8 weeks of their start date. This contract should be a written outline of the terms and conditions of employment, and both you and your employee should retain a signed copy. Template contracts are available from centres for independent living. Terms that you must include are:

  • Number of hours - a week/a term/a year
  • Times and days - information about regular sessions
  • Place of work
  • Hourly rate of pay - Disability Adviser can advise you about usual rates of pay
  • Payment method - how will worker be paid and how often
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Sick leave entitlement
  • Job title or description
  • Notice period - termination of employment (by both parties)
  • Period of contract - it is a good idea to draw up a new agreement each year as your circumstances may change

Other terms that you probably want to include are:

  • Cancellation of support - how much advance notice you and the worker require
  • Preparation - minimum notice required and turnaround time for typing up notes
  • Contacting each other - appropriate times and contact numbers for each party
  • Agreed duties
  • Review dates - often a good idea to have regular reviews to make sure the arrangement is working well for both you and your employee

You should agree responsibilities such as advising each other of cancellations and the notice period acceptable to you both. Make sure that you have some kind of back-up plan in case of last minute cancellations. For example, if you are suddenly unable to make a session then your support worker may incur travel, childcare and other costs. Similarly if your support worker falls sick, you will need a back-up plan, e.g. if you use a notetaker,
a tape recorder might be an occasional substitute. Your support worker would then type up the notes when they are well which will ensure the work gets done.

5. Employment issues

Paying your own support worker

You need to decide how you want to pay your support worker. Here are some of the options:

  • You can ask SAAS to pay the support worker directly at regular instalments, e.g. every month. SAAS will need a timesheet or invoice signed by your employee and yourself before payment can be made.
  • You may choose to make the payments to your support worker yourself. SAAS will write to you after your assessment letting you know about payment procedures.
    You must make sure that you pay your employee as soon as possible after you receive the payment from SAAS. It is often useful to open a separate bank account for this purpose - this way you can keep track of payments more easily and you are less likely to lose access to your DSAs if you go overdrawn.
  • Some institutions will act as agencies for processing payments from awarding authorities. When you are awarded a DSA it is paid into an account managed by the institution, who will then pay your support workers from this account.
  • You may be able to use a local payroll service to handle all payments to your support workers. This might be particularly useful if you also receive Direct Payments from social work to meet care needs. Your local authority can advise you about any local payroll services.

It is essential to keep records of the number of hours of help you receive and any payments you make. It is also essential to keep copies of all receipts and invoices in case the originals are lost or mislaid.

Colin employed a support worker to help with getting around campus and accessing the library. Each month, Colin signed off the support worker's timesheet to say it was an accurate record of hours worked. Colin then sent the timesheet to SAAS and kept a copy in his own files. SAAS paid the support worker directly by cheque.

Employment status

If you arrange your own support workers, they may be either self-employed or employed directly by you. People who are 'self-employed' are responsible for their own tax and National Insurance. They are not covered by employment legislation and so don't have a right to things like Statutory Sick Pay.

However, it is not up to you or your support worker to decide if they are self-employed or employed. The decision is ultimately up to the Inland Revenue for issues relating to tax and National Insurance and up to an employment tribunal for issues relating to employment law. The decision is based around looking at what the person's job involves.

If you have a support worker who works exclusively for you, it is unlikely that they will be given self-employed status. Even if your support worker signs a declaration that they are self-employed, this may not protect you if the Inland Revenue denies them self-employed status. Therefore, it is important that you check about your support worker's employment status with your local tax office, or with a local centre for independent living who have expertise in this area. You can also read the Inland Revenue booklet 'IR56 Employed or self-employed?' or contact the Inland Revenue Employers' Helpline for further information - see Section 8.

Employee rights

Any support worker that you employ automatically has certain rights, regardless of how much they earn. These rights are:

  • itemised pay statement
  • written terms and conditions
  • time off for public duties, and 4 weeks' holiday leave per year pro rata
  • to be paid the minimum wage (details from National Minimum Wage Helpline)
  • not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief (or age from October 2006)
  • not to be discriminated against for trade union membership
  • written notice of employment ending
  • health and safety rights

Employees have certain rights around working time - they must have a rest period of at least 11 hours between working days, must have at least one day off each week, and must have an in-work break if their working day is more than 6 hours. They must have at least 4 weeks' paid leave each year - a week's leave is the number of hours they usually work in a week, e.g. if they usually work 2 hours a week, they are entitled to 8 hours off each leave year. As employer, you can set the times when your employee can take annual leave. For further information about working time regulations, contact the Health and Safety Executive.

Tax and National Insurance

When you directly employ support workers you are legally responsible for how much tax and National Insurance contributions they owe, and you must deduct the amounts from their wages and pay this to the Tax Office. As an employer you may also be liable to pay Employer's National Insurance contributions if your workers earn more than a set amount each week. (This amount is called the 'lower earnings limit' and is set by the government each year. You can get details of this from the Inland Revenue.) If your support workers earn above this set amount they will also have a right to Statutory Sick Pay and Statutory Maternity Pay. If this happens you should seek advice from ACAS and from Skill Scotland.

For more information about tax and National Insurance issues, you should seek advice from a local centre for independent living, the Inland Revenue or your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Employers' Liability Insurance

Most employers are legally required to take out insurance against liability for injury or disease sustained by their employees in the course of employment. Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive ( HSE) says that, in general, you may need employers' liability insurance for someone who works for you if:

  • you deduct National Insurance and income tax from the money you pay them
  • you have the right to control where and when they work and how they do it
  • you supply most materials and equipment
  • you require that person themselves to deliver the service and they cannot employ a substitute if they are unable to do the work
  • they work exclusively for you
  • they are treated in the same way as other employees, for example if they do the same work under the same conditions as someone else you employ.

If you are going to be receiving DSA payments directly and then paying your support workers, then it is likely that you will need employers' liability insurance, particularly if
they work exclusively for you. More information about employers' liability insurance is available from the Health and Safety Executive, Citizens Advice Bureau or a centre for independent living.

6. Get advice!

If you choose to employ your own support worker using DSA, it is very important that you get all the advice and guidance that you need. You could speak to:

  • The Disability Adviser in your institution. They will be able to let you know about how other students in your institution have managed their support workers. They may be able to help with payroll services or finding support workers.
  • Your local centre for Independent Living - these are services set up to support disabled people employing personal assistants. They can usually provide payroll services and can provide advice about every aspect of being an employer and peer support. Contact the National Centre for Independent Living for local contact details - see Section 8 for contact details.
  • You can speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau and ACAS about legal issues, and the Inland Revenue about tax and National Insurance issues.
  • Skill Scotland Information Service - for information about arranging support, funding, agency responsibilities, and your rights as a disabled student.
7. Dealing with problems

Having a clear working agreement with your support workers from the outset is very important to help avoid misunderstandings at a later date. If problems arise, then the Disability Adviser should be your first point of contact for help and advice. Students' union welfare or finance officers may also be a source of information.

Your support workers are entitled to receive payment for their time. However, SAAS will not pay if work is not undertaken. It is therefore very important that you are clear from the outset with your support workers about what work is to be undertaken at what times. You should also keep a clear record of what work has been completed and ask support workers to sign timesheets accordingly.

There may be some situations where your support worker is not providing the service that you need. For example, they may be continually late or not performing tasks effectively. If this is the case, you should seek advice from the Disability Adviser or a centre for independent living. If you do ultimately have to dismiss your employee, it is important that you have first taken advice on this and that you act 'reasonably' at every stage.

Again, a clear working agreement from the start of their employment, regularly reviewed, is the best way to ensure that difficulties are resolved quickly, or do not happen at all!

8. Useful contacts and publications

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
151 West George Street, Glasgow G2 7JJ
Helpline Tel: 08457 47 47 47, Text: 08456 06 16 00
Website: www.acas.org.uk
Can answer a range of employment questions, including questions about an employer's legal responsibilities.

Citizens Advice Bureau
You can find contact details for your local CAB in the phone book or by searching the directory available at: www.cas.org.uk

Community Service Volunteers
Wellgate House, 200 Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1NQ
Tel: 0131 622 7766
Fax: 0131 622 7755
Email: cfield@csv.org.uk
Website: http://www.csv.org.uk/scotland
Volunteer Independent Living Schemes for people who need personal assistance.

Deaf Connections
100 Norfolk Street, Glasgow G5 9EJ
Tel: 0131 420 1759, Fax: 0141 429 6860
Videophone: 0141 418 0579
Email: enquiries@deafconnections.co.uk
Website: www.deafconnections.co.uk

Dyslexia Scotland
Stirling Business Centre, Wellgreen, Stirling FK8 2DZ
Tel: 01786 446650, Fax: 01786 471235
Email: info@dyslexiascotland.org.uk
Website: www.dyslexiascotland.com
Holds register of dyslexia tutors across Scotland.

Health and Safety Executive
HSE Infoline, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG
Information Line: 0845 345 0055, Fax: 0845 408 9566, Text: 0845 408 9577
Email: hseinformationservices@natbrit.com
Website: www.hse.gov.uk
Can answer enquiries about liability insurance.

Inland Revenue Employers' Helpline
Tel: 0845 60 70 143, Text: 0845 6021380
Website: www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk
Can answer queries about tax and National Insurance contributions.

Lothian Centre for Integrated Living
Norton Park, 57 Albion Road, Edinburgh EH7 5QY
Tel/Minicom: 0131 475 2350, Fax: 0131 475 2392
Email: lcil@lothiancil.org.uk
Website: www.lothiancil.org.uk
Provide services, advice and support to disabled people to employ their own personal assistants.

National Centre for Independent Living
250 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5RD
Tel: 020 7587 1663, Fax 020 7582 2469, Text: 020 7587 1177
Email: ncil@ncil.demon.co.uk
Website: www.ncil.org.uk
Provides information about employing personal assistants. Can put you in contact with your local Independent Living Scheme or support centre. Website also has lists of these local contacts.

National Minimum Wage Helpline
Tel: 0845 6000 678
Can give advice about the national minimum wage for your employee(s).

Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters
Donaldson's College, West Coates, Edinburgh EH12 5JJ
Tel: 0131 347 5601, Fax: 0131 347 5628
Email: mail@sasli.org.uk
Website: www.sasli.org.uk
Maintains register of sign language interpreters in Scotland.

Scottish Personal Assistant Employers' Network ( SPAEN)
Unit 9 Motherwell Business Centre, 130 Coursington Road, Motherwell ML1 1PR
Tel: 01698 250280, Fax: 01698 250236
Email: info@spaen.co.uk
Website: www.spaen.co.uk
Can give advice about employing assistants.

Skill Scotland: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities
Norton Park, 57 Albion Road, Edinburgh EH7 5QY
Freephone/Text: 0800 328 5050 Monday-Thursday 1.30-4.30pm
Website: www.skill.org.uk
Skill Scotland's Information Service can provide information and advice on all aspects of post-16 education, training and transition to employment.

Student Awards Agency for Scotland ( SAAS)
Gyleview House, 3 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh EH12 9HH
Tel: 0845 111 1711
Email: saas.geu@scotland.gsi.gov.uk
Website: www.saas.gov.uk
Can provide advice about any aspect of eligibility and payment of Disabled Students Allowance.

Update: Scotland's National Disability Information Service
27 Beaverhall Road, Edinburgh EH7 4JE
Tel: 0131 558 5200, Fax: 0131 558 5201, Text: 0131 558 5202
Email: info@update.org.uk
Website: www.update.org.uk
Can provide contact details for disability-related organisations across Scotland.

Useful Publications

Skill information booklets

Skill produces a range of information booklets, covering disability issues in post-16 education, training and employment. The following are particularly relevant to the issues covered in this information booklet:

  • Applying to Higher Education: Guidance for Disabled People
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Applying for Disabled Students' Allowances
  • Funding from Charitable Trusts
  • The needs of Students with Disabilities in Further and Higher Education

As a disabled student or jobseeker, you can obtain 5 information booklets free of charge. There is a charge of £2.50 per booklet for professionals. You can also access all of these at Skill's website: www.skill.org.uk in the Information section, under Information Booklets.

Into Higher Education (annual publication)
Published by Skill, Chapter House, 18-20 Crucifix Lane, London SE1 3JW
Tel/Text: 020 7450 0620, Fax: 020 7450 0650
Price £2.50 to students, £15.00 to professionals.
Information and advice for disabled people who are planning to apply to higher education.
IR56 leaflet - employed or self-employed?
Available at www.hmrc.gov.uk or at Tel: 0845 7646 646
Leaflet from Inland Revenue to help work out whether a person is employed or self-employed for tax purposes.

Personal Assistant Employers' Handbook
Available online at: www.cvalive.org.uk/Direct%20Payments/booklet_5.htm
A guide to running a self-operated personal assistance scheme.

Personal Assistance for Disabled Students in Higher Education
Published by Skill, Chapter House, 18-20 Crucifix Lane, London SE1 3JW
Tel/Text: 020 7450 0620, Fax: 020 7450 0650
Email: skill@skill.org.uk
Website: www.skill.org.uk
Price £2.50 to students, £6.50 to professionals.

Supporting You at College
Published by Scottish Executive
Available online at www.scotland.gov.uk or by Tel: 0141 242 0181

Tackling discrimination and promoting equality - good practice guide for employers
Published by ACAS
Available online at www.acas.org.uk