Wednesday, 4 March 2015

How to hire a nanny

I was out for dinner with some friends when someone said something incomprehensible: 'there is life beyond good nannies, you know'. Now, I love my friends dearly, but clearly this particular friend has lost the plot. Because, obviously, there is NO life without a good nanny. And that is the absolute truth.

I honestly believe that out of the three of us (me, my husband and our nanny) I am the least important in the equation. We didn't strike it lucky first time; our first hire was an absolute, unmitigated disaster. I can still remember the train journey where Mr. M. and I decided, somewhere around Wimbledon, that we just couldn't bear the thought of the children being with that 'nanny' for another hour, let alone another day, and jumping off the train to about turn and send her (gently - we're not awful people) packing. Because there's nothing worse than leaving the children with forlorn looks on their faces as you close the door goodbye. 

Our current nanny has been with us for almost three years. She is, without doubt, the best thing that happened to us. She's hands on, part of the family and excellent with the children. At the same time, she doesn't overstep the mark and never replaces me as a mum. In short, she's part of the family.

Over the past couple of weeks, no less than three separate friends have been in touch to ask how to find a nanny - and I do vaguely remember the issue of appointing a nanny a whole headache to get your brain around. Who on earth came up with the idea that is was okay to quote salaries in nett (and not gross) figures? So, just because people have been asking, I thought it might be helpful to give you the benefit of my brilliance - or, at least, share how I got lucky:

1. Use an agency. Unless you know the ins and outs of qualifications and training - which I absolutely do not and had no intention of learning - you need someone to do this for you. They charge a fortune - but let's remember that you're trusting the person you employ with the most precious thing in your life, so it's worth getting someone that's properly qualified to do it. They'll also verify the qualifications and check things like criminal records - so it's worth it. Find an agency that is either recommended by someone you know, or has significant support online. You want reputable and responsible. And make sure you check references - be ruthless, because you won't want any doubt in your mind the first day you leave the kids with this newcomer.

2. Use a company to sort out the tax. The genius that suggested that nannies should be paid nett wage only - the onus is completely on you to sort our their tax as well as your own - is hopefully gainfully unemployed by now. How it's possible I don't know, but basically, when you're arranging the salary, you'll be negotiating in nett pay - so you'll need to remember to set aside money each month to pay employer NI and tax. You'll need to pay this on a quarterly basis - but seriously, spend the £200 a year to a company that will figure it all out for you and remind you when to pay. They'll even throw in payslips for your nanny. It's another con - and don't get me started on the fact this all comes out of your nett salary (so you're paying tax twice) - but unless your day job is being an accountant, it's not worth the hassle. Just be thankful you're not schlepping the kids to nursery every morning and think of that as a small cost to pay.

3. Be completely honest with your nanny. Anything can be agreed in advance. If you're also expecting them to clean the house - I wouldn't recommend it, but it's up to you - then you need to be clear about that before they start. Also be honest about the hours you want them to work. There's no point being late every day - that won't make for a happy household. Most nannies are pretty reasonable, but it's your responsibility to set the standards. We, for example, make it clear that washing the children's clothes and changing the children's beds once a week is part of the job. Changing our bed isn't part of the deal - and we keep it that way.

4. Treat them as you'd like to be treated. Agree a 'kitty' amount each week for them to spend on entertaining your children. Don't make them ask you for money - it's awkward for everyone. Also, if you ask them to stay late, or to babysit, pay them properly. Expecting them to be grateful for keeping their job is unlikely to keep them with the family for the love of it. 

5. Remember this is their career. We have an annual budget to pay for training and maintenance of particular qualifications - such as first aid certificates. It's as much for your children's benefit as theirs - and generally, it helps to remind you that you're managing someone's career. 

Of course, there are differences - often, in London, people travelling the world do a spot of nannying to cover the bills - and to give themselves a roof over their heads. For those of us in the suburbs, live in nannies aren't so common (for one thing: living in Esher is hardly the most compelling prospect in the world, compared to Kennington) - and the majority of them are more career minded. Whatever you're looking for, just remember: when you find one that's good, hang on for dear life and do everything you can to keep them. Your children will thank you - and you'll sleep better at night. I promise. 

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