It has been more than a year since the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) began its rollout in Sydney. It is now being progressively introduced across regional and remote areas of NSW.
This is an appropriate time to examine what we have learned so far. What are the NDIS hits and misses? And what needs to happen next?
Based on my long sector experience and exposure to the NDIS as a service provider, I have no doubt that this Scheme is making huge improvements in disability support funding and provision. However this transition has thrown up many challenges so far, and more lie ahead.
There have been painful issues with logistics – such as difficulties in accessing, navigating and using the NDIS online portal. There are also ongoing problems with obtaining clear information and policy guidelines, and accessing funding once it is approved.
Last year a breakdown in the NDIS payment system left both providers and participants unpaid. It was only the commitment and goodwill of providers which maintained critical support for people with disability over that time. Now, as we approach the end of 2017, payments to providers like Achieve remain in arrears.
Quality and frequency of information remains an issue – along with difficulty in contacting planners and frequent changes in NDIS requirements and procedures. NDIS staff are frequently unable to give definitive and consistent answers to questions – particularly about the outcomes of assessments and changes in funding.
These issues have driven a dramatic increase in complaints about the NDIS to the Commonwealth Ombudsman over the past financial year. There were 429 complaints in 2016-17, a big jump from 62 in 2015-16.
NDIS participants are understandably concerned when they cannot contact planners, obtain the appointments they need, have access to vital information, or must ‘meet’ with planners by phone rather than face-to-face.
Just this month, the Productivity Commission released the results of a year-long review of the NDIS to the Australian Government. The Commission’s findings include:
- The 2019-20 target for full implementation of the Scheme covering an estimated 475,000 participants is unlikely to be met.
- The NDIS is struggling to meet actual volume of demand, let alone the projected uptake.
- Skills shortages and other disability sector price pressures could force up costs, making the Scheme less financially viable.
The Commission estimates that the National Disability Insurance Agency needs to process 500 support plans a day, and review hundreds more, to meet the target. It is currently managing only 165 per day, and even this pace risks compromising the quality of funded plans.
Clearly a balance needs to be found between volume of plans processed, understanding the genuine needs of participants, and the quality of plans approved.
A survey earlier this year of more than 2,000 participants by Every Australian Counts found 78% of people with disability can now access the same or more support than before the NDIS.
While we should celebrate and congratulate the NDIS on this result, all of us in the disability sector need to work with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to address the issues experienced so far – and those looming ahead.
Achieve Australia is working with the sector’s peak body – National Disability Services – to support a communications campaign highlighting how the complexity of the NDIS implementation is placing pressure on all stakeholders, including service providers.
We are all in this together. The NDIS is the single largest shift in funding and support for people with disability in our lifetimes. It is already transforming the lives of thousands of Australians.
So let’s work together to ensure the NDIS becomes an effective and sustainable platform for delivering support for people with disability far into the future – perhaps even in ways we have not yet foreseen.