New independent NDIA committee to review AAT backlog

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
Bill Shorten, NDIS Minister, announced a new independent committee to review appeals. [Source: Twitter]
Bill Shorten, NDIS Minister, announced a new independent committee to review appeals. [Source: Twitter]

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Minister Bill Shorten has introduced a new independent oversight committee to review thousands of outstanding plan appeals in the hopes it will reduce the backlog of cases clogging the system.

Led by former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, the yet-to-be-named committee will provide an alternative dispute resolution process to the existing administrative appeals tribunal (AAT) run by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

Simplifying the process for participants

Speaking at a webinar hosted by Every Australian Counts and Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) on Tuesday, Mr Shorten said he wants to improve the appeals experience for NDIS participants as part of the Federal Government’s NDIS election commitments.

There will be a focus on reducing the need for lawyers and the number of cases going to court.

“I am of the view that many of these matters where participants are arguing for things can and should be fixed,” says Mr Shorten.

“They shouldn’t require a participant to have to fight with a big-end-of-town lawyer all the way to the door of the court.

“I think the current situation is repellent and repugnant and it is not acceptable for this Government, for any Government, to be behaving in this way.”

Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion (QAI) welcomes the Federal Government’s commitment to reducing the backlog of appeals although more improvements can be made, says Sian Thomas, Principal Solicitor, NDIS Advocacy Practice.

“We urgently need an effective and well-resourced early intervention process that will enable cases to be resolved quickly and fairly,” says Ms Thomas.

“We are very concerned though about the number of people who cannot access proper advice from specialist appeals advocates or lawyers to help them understand the proposals from the NDIA.

“The NDIS is about ensuring people with disability have access to the supports they need to live their lives and participate in the community, yet many people with disability experience significant distress when dealing with the NDIA and this needs to change.”

NDIS participants facing delays with the AAT will be able to choose whether their case is assessed by the independent committee. The process will not delay the original case in any way.

Long term changes

The number of appeals cases before the AAT peaked at 4,501 in May, an increase of 400 percent on last year, while the NDIA also spent a reported $28 million fighting appeals during a six-month period prior to the Labor Government taking office.

There has since been an 11% decrease in outstanding cases to under 4,000, and Mr Shorten aims to further halve that number by Christmas with the committee potentially reviewing upwards of 2,000 cases.

He also issued a warning to the NDIA.

“I want to make it very clear… as far as I’m concerned, and I say this very clearly to the NDIA… you are now in a different world,” says Mr Shorten.

“The adversarial approach is not the approach I support. As the Minister, I want the process to change so participants are treated much better.”

QAI says Mr Shorten’s ambitious target is welcomed, but that it is just the first step towards long term changes.

“The key will be ensuring the resources are made available to achieve this target. The resolutions also need to be appropriate, so that they appropriately meet the participant’s needs,” says Ms Thomas.

“If errors are made in a rush, this could result in a person finding themselves back at where they started and needing to work through the appeals process all over again at the next plan.

“Improving transparency at the Tribunal is also key, close to 99% of matters at the AAT either resolve by agreement or the person withdraws.

“We are not aware of any work being done to understand why people withdraw and we are very concerned that navigating the process without adequate support is a key reason.”

An initial trial run of 15 – 20 cases will be put before Mr Innes and his chosen members of the committee.

More information is set to be released, including how the dispute resolution process will work and who can access it, following consultations with the disability sector.