Hiring a nanny or au pair

Hiring a nanny or au pairPic: Getty

Many mums and dads would love to stay at home to look after their children, but the reality of modern life means it is not always possible.

If you are returning to work and desperate to find someone who can look after your children at home, an au pair or nanny may be the answer. Here's what you need to know, and tips on finding the right help for your family.

Nanny or au pair?
Though both care for your children and may even help out with household chores, the difference between an au pair and a nanny is often qualifications and experience.

There is no legal requirement for a nanny to have childcare qualifications, but since most have made it a career choice, they will usually enjoy working with children and have put in the work in order to do so. A nanny can either be live-in or hired by the day. If you go for the former, you will be required to provide meals and their own room on top of salary, and many families provide a car as well. Day nannies, on the other hand, work a set number of hours each day and then return to their own home.

Nanny-share, where you effectively share your nanny with another family, is another option, though it is important to note that any nanny working for three or more families at the same time is legally required to register as a childminder.

By contrast, au pairs are generally young people, between the ages of 17 and 27, who live as family in your home. Often, though not always, they are foreigners who are studying here in the UK, and as such, you must allow them time to attend courses as well as some free time. Au pairs often agree to complete some chores around the house, as well as babysitting on occasion.

Finding the right person
Since they are charged with caring for probably the most precious thing in your life, finding the right nanny or au pair is essential for parents. Therefore, it is important to carry out the necessary checks and ask the right questions before you take the plunge.

When interviewing, the first port of call should be qualifications and experience - check their qualifications (calling the relevant educational establishment for proof if necessary), and quiz the interviewee about their childcare experience, as well as any extras such as driving licence, cooking skills, first aid certificate and so on. For nannies, two references are a must, and ideally you should speak to these references by phone, which will give you a better idea of their ability than the written alternative.

Thereafter, question your potential employee as to how they might encourage good behaviour, or discipline a child, to see whether they are in line with your own beliefs on the subject. Similarly, ask about what activities they might involve the children in, and what they like or dislike most about the job.

Arranging a time when the nanny or au pair can meet the children will allow you to see how they might get on.

Signing them up
Whether an au pair or nanny, you must set out carefully the required duties before they start work. Details of household chores for which they will be responsible, hours, including weekend work or babysitting, and pay (consider holiday and sickness pay if necessary) need to be agreed between family and nanny or au pair right from the start, so as to avoid any disputes further down the line. And a contract clearly laying out all of the above, as well as the procedure for termination of the contract, should be signed by both parties.

A CRB check may help to set your mind at rest, and should be expected for anyone working with children in the UK. Call the CRB for advice on 0870 90 90 811.

Finally, remember that as an employer, it is your responsibility to deal with your nanny or au pair's salary, tax and National Insurance, and more information on your responsibilities in this area can be found at www.hmrc.gov.uk.

Do you employ a nanny or au pair? What advice would you give to parents considering hiring in-home childcare? Leave your comments below...