These calls for change and improvement in delivery of disability services in the state come as a number of promises made by the Federal Government to make the transition to the NDIS as successful as possible, have not been honoured.
South Australian Disabilities Minister Katrine Hildyard says she has raised the issues of lack of Local Area Coordinators (LAC’s), payment delay issues for providers, and the providing of last resort arrangements for people for people unable to access services due to geographic isolation or other complex circumstances, with Federal Ministers “repeatedly”.
“Our South Australian Government is absolutely committed to the NDIS - and we’re calling on the Federal Government to lift its game,” Ms Hildyard says.
“We have identified these issues by talking to those in the sector who are working hard day-in and day-out on the NDIS transition [and] I have repeatedly raised these issues with Federal Ministers...with the rollout of the NDIS already underway, we need to see action.
“People with disability have waited long enough for the life-changing benefits of the NDIS. The Federal Government needs to keep its promises.”
Ms Hildyard adds that it is not only NDIS clients being affected by the Federal Government’s action, but providers too, some of who are continually being left to “foot the bill” for services they have provided due to ongoing issues with payments from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).
NDS State Manager Peter Hoppo has also brought to light the ongoing issue of a lack of LAC’s who play a pivotal role in connecting people to services on the ground, leaving the State Government to pick up the work, due to the “inaction of the Commonwealth”, also making note of the NDIA payment issues.
Currently, and despite the NDIS rolling out across most of South Australia already, the NDIA has only appointed LAC’s in two regions - Northern Adelaide and Barossa, Light and Lower North.
“Our members campaigned for the NDIS and continue to strongly support it but have concerns in the way it is being implemented to date,” Mr Hoppo explains.
“Not having Local Area Coordinators in place is making the rollout difficult across whole regions of South Australia, with disability service providers trying to fill the gaps.
“Many providers are [also] still reporting issues with receiving prompt payment, which is making transitioning to the NDIS much harder.”
Other issues and “unmet promises” identified by the state’s Government, leading disability providers and NDS include:
Fast-tracking improvements to the initial planning process and plan reviews
Removing the arbitrary cap on National Disability Insurance Agency staff
Guaranteeing provider of last resort funding arrangements and keeping South Australia’s 24-hour phone line open
Ensuring South Australia gets its fair share of NDIA resources and jobs
Boosting plan utilisation rates by matching state investment in sector and workforce development
Ensuring people have proper access to funded transport for supported services; and that NDIS payments support quality, viable services including rural and remote areas
Guaranteeing that the Quality and Safeguards Commission will be running on time
Ms Hildyard made note of the issues, saying that “all of these problems are being compounded because the Federal Government will not lift the cap on employment at the NDIA which has also seen an unprecedented $180 million spent on external consultants over a 16 month-period”.
Disability service provider Can:Do Group has also raised concerns over the impact the rollout issues are having on clients and consumers, with Chief Executive Officer Heidi Limareff saying the provider has seen “many changes, both positive and negative, take place for clients during the initial trial and rollout”.
“We wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities that the NDIS brings for our clients, our sector and the State, but believe that a heavy burden has been placed on service providers, many of whom are non-profit, to fill the gap - bearing the costs of unfunded services as well as developing, administering and advocating for effective systems and support,” she says.
“For the sake of our clients, many of whom are facing unnecessary stress and anxiety on top of their already challenging circumstances, we urge the Commonwealth to work together with the State Government to overcome the barriers to access that are obstacles to the overarching success of the scheme in order to develop an agile, responsive and robust system for the future of all Australians.”
A NDIA spokesperson says the rollout of this “major reform” in South Australia is a shared responsibility guided by agreements made between the SA State Government and the Commonwealth.
“The NDIS is transitioning to full-scheme in line with phasing schedules bilaterally agreed by the South Australian Government and the Commonwealth Government,” the spokesperson says.
“The successful transition to the NDIS is a shared responsibility… [and] the NDIA welcomes the South Australian Government’s continued commitment to playing their role in delivering the best possible NDIS for South Australians with disability, their families and carers.”
In terms of the issues raised regarding the LAC’s, the spokesperson says despite two rounds of approaching the open market for LAC services, there has been no preferred applicants for 10 of the 12 service areas.
The spokesperson adds that the NDIA has “continued to implement innovative models to ensure the delivery of the Scheme including for example, bringing forward all Agency-directed recruitment”, and that the NDIA expects to announce the outcomes of a targeted grant round deliver LAC services in the remaining 10 service areas “in due course”.
Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services Minister Jane Prentice shared her disappointment in the South Australian Government’s approach “given a number of the matters raised were discussed at the Disability Reform Council meeting on 20 November 2017”, where she says “all jurisdictions including South Australia committed to work together to resolve a range of issues as reflective of the joint responsibility to deliver the Scheme”.