National disability insurance scheme confusing and causing some to miss out on support, review finds | Australia news
The transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme has been “confusing” for participants, who have faced frustrating delays and sometimes missed out on supports they received under the previous state-based system, a government-commissioned review has found.
Former public servant David Tune’s independent review of the NDIS Act, released on Monday, issued 29 recommendations to improve the scheme following an implementation process that the review found had “not been smooth”.
Some participants complained about a lack of transparency in the National Disability Insurance Agency’s decisions, that the scheme was “too complex and difficult to navigate” and that NDIS staff did not understand their disability or the challenges they faced in their lives.
“This review heard that, in combination, these issues have resulted in some participants reporting their engagement with the NDIS has led to lasting negative impacts on their wellbeing,” the review said.
But it also stressed that once people had received their plans and were receiving supports, “participant outcomes are improving the longer they are in the NDIS”.
The Morrison government commissioned the review in August amid growing concerns around delays, with participants at the time waiting an average of 127 days to receive a plan.
The NDIS minister, Stuart Robert, also rolled out a temporary “interim plan” model that has significantly cut waiting times, which has seen waiting times fall to an average of 77 days.
On Monday, Robert said the government would respond to the findings “in the coming weeks” and lay out changes to legislate a new service guarantee for participants by 1 July 2020.
“The review’s findings reaffirmed what we have been hearing from participants, their families and carers and the disability sector – that while many participants have had excellent experiences and are benefitting from the scheme, many others have had frustrations with wait times, complexity of processes and a lack of understanding of their needs,” Robert said.
“We’ll use these findings to update and clarify the legislation and remove barriers to a better NDIS.”
Among the 29 recommendations, the review calls for legislated time frames, including that participants should have a plan after no longer than 56 days when the scheme is at “maturity” by July 2021.
Tune also recommends the NDIS Act be amended so participants are given more powers to use their supports flexibly, calls for a trial that would allow NDIS planners to also approve participants’ plans and calls for “additional funding to support people with disability to navigate the NDIS”.
The review also says the test used by the NDIA in its decision-making – whether a support is “reasonable and necessary” – lacks a “clear definition of what constitutes a reasonable and necessary support”.
“This creates confusion around the role and purpose of the NDIS and drives a number of individual cases towards tribunals and courts,” the review says.
Disability advocates cautiously welcomed the review’s findings. “It’s great to see the Tune review acknowledge that the NDIS is too complex,” said Romola Hollywood, a director of policy and advocacy at People with Disability Australia.
“People with disability tell us every day that the scheme is hard to access and difficult to navigate. We welcome the commitment to making the NDIS respond more quickly to people with disability, so that we can get access to the essential supports that we need.
“But we don’t want see greater accountability on timeframes for plan assessments and reviews to come at the expense of the quality of the plans.”
Hollywood said she was also concerned that the review did not recommend the scheme’s staffing cap be removed or more people with disabilities be employed within the agency.
“These are key issues that have to be urgently addressed,” she said.
The opposition’s NDIS spokesman, Bill Shorten, said: “[Tune’s] findings that the scheme is plagued by delays and is frustrating to understand echo the experience of many thousands of participants.
“The Liberals have had six years stewardship of what should be a world-class scheme but instead they have pillaged it and left people with disability out in the cold.”