Ability First Australia fully supports the National Disability Insurance Scheme and is working collaboratively with governments and the National Disability Insurance Scheme to address key issues, ensuring people with disabilities can live full and inclusive lives.
Here are some of the key issues Ability First Australia believes are important for people living with disability in Australia. To keep up-to-date with our news and current activities, follow us on LinkedIn.
Significant shortcomings in the planning process are a major obstacle to providing appropriate packages for participants. Individual interpretation, coupled with a lack of training, experience and consistency by planners is compromising the quality of plans and creating angst for participants, their families and carers.
We acknowledge that the Agency is working to remedy these issues, but there needs to be greater focus on this area to maintain consistency in both approach and outcomes for participants. We would strongly recommend that the Agency works with experienced organisations, such as the ECEI partners, to achieve these goals.
Communication and transparency with participants and providers could also be improved through ensuring aspects of planning are undertaken outside of government and allowing service providers to take a more active role in the planning process.
If participants elect to self-manage and/or sign on to plan-management agencies, this can increase payment delays. Participants can book and use services when there are insufficient funds in their package; this is impacting cash flow and putting pressure on provider sustainability in both the short and long term.
The disability sector workforce is anticipated to double in size in the short term, and there is pressure on service providers to meet this demand for quality staff.
Ability First Australia members are concerned that the prospect of inadequate training, fragmented hours and insecure positions will not attract a qualified workforce, and furthermore, that it will compromise the quality of service to their clients.
Service providers are competing for employees with the Health and Aged Care industries; this is not sustainable within the current price cap framework.
Ability First would encourage the government to expand its current focus on workforce development to not only attract workers to the sector but ensure that they arrive with the requisite qualifications and skills.
Market Stewardship and Sustainability
There is a need for active market stewardship to support the development of a marketplace that is viable, fair and effective. A lack of market stewardship will result in failure to close the gap between supply and demand at full scheme.
Service providers need to operate in a market environment which allows them to feel confident in their pricing, and to allow them to invest in growth.
Unless pricing continues to be amended to reflect the complex nature of disability, deregulation and price pose an ongoing risk of thin markets or areas of market failure. This is particularly relevant in the provision of services for people with higher complexity/intensity needs.
Issues surrounding anticompetitive practice must be addressed, particularly in thin and rural markets, where there are vast geographical areas to service, latent demand and lack of providers (for example, in the WA Goldfields, or remote Aboriginal communities). As a way of developing markets in these areas, Ability First Australia sees potential in the appointment of a panel of reliable, trusted and approved providers (to be reviewed regularly) to deliver services and provide continuity of support.
The continued underspend of participant packages is concerning as it impacts the benefits being realised by participants and slows the development of a mature NDIS marketplace.
Quality and Safeguards
Ability First Australia supports the establishment of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and has already engaged in discussions with Commissioner Graeme Head about the implementation and rollout of the new framework.
Given the complex nature of the policy environment, increased consultation with providers is critical in shaping the ongoing rollout in all states. We acknowledge the progress the Commission has made, that it has listened to the industry and is beginning to act, but there is still some work to do and we strongly recommend further review of some standards and regulations.
The Commission’s mandate for external auditing has resulted in additional costs to service providers and is impacting the viability of smaller providers.
Additional reporting on restrictive practises has also had significant implications on providers’ compliance efforts and budgets. There is a need to continue to improve the Commission’s systems to reduce administrative load and, in some instances, the need for additional staff to manage workflow.
Ability First Australia acknowledges the Commission’s valid reasons behind this additional reporting, but strongly recommends that NDIS pricing should reflect the associated extra administrative costs.
Ability First Australia members have established a dedicated Quality and Safeguards working group, to problem-solve challenges of the new rollout, and to provide constructive feedback in consultations with the Commissioner.
Capacity Building and Employment
Ability First Australia is concerned about the lack of capacity building in many plans. It is our experience that ongoing plans remain unchanged, and focus solely on current support needs, overlooking supports that provide a pathway to employment, assistive technology, allied health and other supports that ultimately help to deliver economic and social benefits to the participant and their communities.
Ability First Australia proposes that individual and community capacity building, and particularly a pathway to employment, be included in all participant plans. Employment should be a quotable item in all plans.
We propose that regular audits of a representative sample of participant plans be conducted to ensure capacity building, employment support and employment outcomes are present in plans, and in line with the economic assumptions of the Scheme.
Investing in the capacity of individuals and empowering them to become productive and contributing members of the community is critical to the success of the NDIS. Ability First Australia is eager to see the Scheme work as intended, and believes for this to happen, further work needs to be undertaken to minimise participants’ long-term support costs, thereby boosting their economic participation and contribution over time.
Provider Experiences in transacting with the National Disability Insurance Agency
Ability First acknowledges the Agency’s and Department of Social Services’ willingness to consult and engage with service providers, and appreciates their efforts to listen to, and understand, the Sector.
Recent policy and pricing changes are indicative of a more sophisticated approach in terms of provider engagement, and the latest Price Guide, which provides clear examples of what can be billed, is a positive step towards building a better understanding in the marketplace of our respective responsibilities. Similarly, the recent commitment from government to address delays for children/early intervention is very encouraging.
While the Agency has made significant efforts to streamline the provider experience with its systems (e.g. Portal), there is still further work to do here to get to its optimum point.
Service providers need long term funding certainty and policy stability to make appropriate business decisions in a market driven environment. We believe a solution may lie with the Agency working with selected participants and service providers to map their respective journeys through the NDIS and identify points in the process for improvement.
Emergency funding for extenuating circumstances
Ability First Australia members support the creation of a temporary funding extension, in the event that a participant’s package may be fully exhausted due to unforeseen circumstances. This would allow continuity of service until the package was reviewed and would reduce the risk of underspending of participant packages.
From our experience dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, as well as the flooding in Far North Queensland and bushfires in Tasmania, we have seen first-hand that these kinds of events are disruptive to business operations and customers, and their impact can be devastating on communities.
There is currently no allowance within the Scheme for relief funding to providers in extenuating circumstances where increased services to customers are required, such as:
- Customers in Supported Independent Living arrangements in red zone areas for flooding and damage, who need to relocate to other sites;
- Customers who elect to remain in their own settings who require increased levels of support; their support staff are not able to leave for safety reasons, leading to the delivery and claiming of more hours;
- Business and support staff working overtime to ensure all customers are contacted and understand contingency arrangements
Ability First Australia supports the establishment of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
We believe that a Commission marks a critical step in promoting the human rights of people with disability, and that it will give people with disability an opportunity to receive justice for any violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation they may have experienced in the past.
Ability First Australia remains committed to safeguarding the rights of people with disability, and to helping establish a national culture of inclusion, accessibility and respect for all individuals.
This should be a Royal Commission for and about the human rights of Australians with disability. Ability First Australia and its members look forward to fully supporting the Royal Commission to achieve its objectives.
Thank you to all of our supporters for helping us rise to these key issues and continue to help thousands of people living with disability.
None of our work would be possible without our members, sponsors and supporters, and we sincerely thank you for your generosity.