Disability advocacy organisations across the country have united to call on the state and federal governments to work together to reverse the “shutdown” of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the ACT.
The move comes after it emerged more than 1,000 people with a disability in the ACT are at risk of missing out on the scheme after the National Disability Insurance Agency stated there would be no new participants in the territory.
The estimate of 5,075 participants contained in the original bilateral agreement has now been reached and the territory and federal governments are disputing over who should fund additional places.
The disability organisations said the situation is causing “significant alarm” to people with disability who have been waiting many years to receive appropriate disability support and need a clear statement that the scheme will continue to make plans with eligible participants.
Craig Wallace from People with Disabilities ACT told Pro Bono Australia News the group were appalled at the decision to cease offering plans.
“People were explicitly told that there was no linkage between when you entered the scheme and the access to support you got,” Wallace said.
“In fact, what we were doing at one stage was saying to people ‘don’t all feel the need to rush in now because the scheme is just opened and rolling, you can enter any time you like’, so this instantly changes that mindset back to the one where you are first in best dressed, if you are late, you are out.
“There are many people that have been assessed as eligible but haven’t been scheduled planning appointments and I’m quite concerned that they’re using this device of not scheduling planning appointments to exclude people from the scheme.
“We were never told it would become a triaged system. It reverts us back to the old irrational first come, first served model. The federal government needs to swiftly move to end this cap and communicate that to people with disability and families.
“These are people that have waited decades for essential supports like equipment, like respite, like personal care and supports and that are maybe in crisis, so at the moment we’ve got a lot of very worried people with disability, parents and carers on the ground wondering if they are going to get the support that they have been lobbying for for so many years.”
ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service CEO Fiona May said the NDIS was never intended to be a rationed system and this move by the NDIA goes against the principles of the scheme.
“We are very concerned for people who are affected by this freeze,” May said.
“We work with people with disability who because of the complexity in their circumstances have not yet applied but very clearly need NDIS support; we have other clients whose NDIS applications have been delayed for many months by the NDIA and who are now left wondering whether they will ever get the services they need; and a group who have been found eligible but do not yet have planning appointments.”
The disability organisations acknowledge both the ACT and the federal government have stated the NDIS is not a capped scheme, and that action is being taken to bring in additional ACT NDIS participants.
However, they remain extremely concerned that “shifting responsibility” and “blame gaming” is counterproductive to ending this crisis.
“This takes us back to the state and territory / Commonwealth cost shifting and game playing around disability supports that were a feature of the old, broken disability support system,” Wallace said.
“We will not accept this – politicians are morally and politically accountable to uphold the principles of the NDIS and act now to fix this.”
Wallace said disability organisations had decided to take a stand to prevent the same thing happening in other jurisdictions.
“This is the first full roll out…here we are meant to have full scheme… all of the bilateral arrangements are meant to be working away behind the scenes and the experience for the client should be seamless regardless of who is footing the bill.
“I’m very concerned and I think people with disability around Australia have a right to be concerned, about what this means about the roll out elsewhere.”
Disabled People’s Organisations Australia director Therese Sands told Pro Bono Australia News halting access to the NDIS in the ACT had profound implications for people with disability across Australia.
“It creates uncertainty in all jurisdictions if the NDIS will be shutdown when estimates of the numbers of participants contained in NDIS bilateral agreements are reached,” Sands said.
“When people with disability are expecting to move into a new scheme where they are being told that there is no cap and if you meet the eligibility criteria you will be able to have a plan in process that will enable you to have a funding package to receive disability support. You may have been waiting for many years for this opportunity given that the NDIS is moving from a broken crisis driven scheme to a new scheme where people have more choice and control, so when they are waiting for that to occur and then they are informed that in fact the NDIS will not be taking on new people… it’s very alarming and distressing for people.
“Particularly when in a jurisdiction like the ACT where it is full roll out and the ACT Government has effectively withdrawn or is withdrawing many of its services it becomes very problematic as to where people with disability will actually receive services and where they will go, whether they will have any service.
“And I think the secondary thing of that is it then means people with disability in other jurisdictions will begin to wonder if this is going to have an effect in other areas.
“It is in opposition to the scheme’s principles, it is in opposition to the promise of the scheme and it has created alarm.
“We certainly welcome those reassurances that they are working to resolve the issue but we are concerned that it has got to this point and it shouldn’t really have been allowed to happen.
“The situation in the ACT must not become a precedent for other states and territories. We urge the minister for social services, the Hon. Christian Porter, to quickly resolve this for people with disability in the ACT and people with disability across Australia.”
Meanwhile Jenny Macklin, the shadow minister for families and social service, has accused Porter of being “asleep at the wheel of the NDIS”.
“There is no cap on the NDIS,” Macklin said.
“People with disability in the ACT who are entitled to receive care and support as part of the NDIS should be given access to the scheme.
“Anything less is a betrayal of trust.
“Mr Porter can’t blame anyone else, the rollout of the NDIS is his responsibility. The buck stops with Christian Porter.”
Porter said the number of ACT participants for trial were agreed between the previous federal Labor government and ACT Labor government in 2012.
“The agreed trial participant number of 5,075 was provided by the ACT Government, notwithstanding they were aware of larger estimates provided by the Australian Government actuary in 2012,” Porter said.
“This issue is a repeat of the mishandling of the trial agreement with SA entered into by Labor governments in 2012, where the number of participants was underestimated by more than 5,000.”
Porter said new agreements were being made.
“The NDIS is not a capped program and so, following the swearing in of the ACT Government, new agreements will be made to bring in additional participants. Participant planning sessions are continuing while we await the swearing in,” he said.
“The financial impacts of any additional entrants will need to be negotiated with the ACT after their election.
“Notwithstanding the estimate deficiencies provided by Labor governments in SA and the ACT, there is fortunately no evidence of underestimation being a widespread issue. The underestimates appear limited to these jurisdictions which are small relative to the overall scheme.”