More than 20 of Australia’s largest disability advocate and support organisations have released a joint statement requesting the Federal Government scrap its plan to introduce mandatory assessments for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants.
Under the current process, those wishing to access the NDIS or are due for a plan review, submit evidence from experts, including their specialists, and these reports are evaluated by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).
In August 2020, the Government announced the introduction of independent assessments to come into effect from mid-2021, with the aim to provide a more standardised assessment by providing free access to specific qualified health professionals, removing the need for people to organise their own assessment and saving them time and money.
Existing participants will progressively be required to undergo the same assessment process before they receive their next NDIS plan and funds.
However, organisations including People With Disability Australia, Every Australian Counts, Inclusion Australia and Australian Federation of Disability Organisations say the sector has “significant concerns” about how the planned changes will affect the way NDIS participants receive support.
“These changes will fundamentally alter the individualised and personalised nature of the NDIS. While we all want greater consistency, we are very concerned this increasingly automated process will not adequately consider individual needs and circumstances,” the joint statement released on 11 March says.
“This is not the NDIS we fought for.”
The first independent assessment pilot was rolled out in 2019, but was postponed until October 2020 due to COVID-19. The Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS then announced an inquiry into independent assessments at the end of 2020 and called for feedback from people with disability and their supporters.
Advocates are concerned that assessments can be carried out in less than three hours by people who are strangers to the participants, which they say is not enough time to “capture individual complexity or build a comprehensive and accurate picture” of someone’s life.
“The introduction of mandatory assessments is the biggest change to the NDIS since it began. Despite the scale and cost of the changes, they have not been rigorously tested or undergone an independent evaluation,” the statement says.
“Consultation has been rushed and the questions and concerns of people with disability, their families and the organisations that support and represent them have not been addressed.
“Based on the information released by the NDIA, we are concerned that a desire to cut costs is the main motivation for the hurried introduction of these reforms.”
In the statement, advocacy groups have requested that the Government:
Immediately cease the rollout of compulsory assessments as currently planned.
Undertake a robust and transparent outcome evaluation of the current pilot of the new assessment process. This evaluation must be independent of the NDIA, led by experts and co-designed with people with disability, their families and the organisations that support them.
Undertake robust, independent and transparent trials of alternative approaches to improving consistency in access and planning – such as allowing a person’s existing health professionals to complete assessments using the same tools.
Once the trials and evaluations are complete, engage in a meaningful co-design process with people with disability, their families and the organisations that support them to ensure a fair and consistent approach to both access to the scheme and planning and to ensure people with disability receive the support they need.
A full copy of the statement, including an Easy Read version, is available here.