Fifield demands action on disability

PATRICIA KARVELAS AND RICK MORTON The Australian November 11, 2013

THE Abbott government has ordered the National Disability Insurance Agency to overhaul its processes and provide immediate "remedial action" because the flagship disability insurance scheme is running late.

This is despite concern that the most vulnerable - those with intellectual disabilities - are being railroaded into accepting decisions that are not right for them and, in some cases, left to negotiate without independent advocates present.

The Australian can reveal Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield has demanded the NDIA come up with a plan to overhaul its processes to ensure the delivery of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is not compromised. Four trial sites for the scheme have been launched in Victoria, NSW and the ACT, with full start-up for the NDIS set for 2018.

A senior government source said some launch sites were less than halfway towards the target number of plans that should be signed off by now.

Recent nationwide figures reveal about 1400 plans have been completed while a further 2200 are in progress, much fewer than targets set out in the scheme's bilateral agreements with launch states. In NSW alone, it was estimated there would be 1080 clients with NDIS plans by the end of this month.

In Victoria, it was estimated there would be 1639. In the first six months of the launch in South Australia -- to the end of December -- it was estimated 681 plans would be finalised. The estimate was 782 in Tasmania, where the actual number of completed plans so far is about 300.

It is understood delays are in part because scheme participants are taking longer to decide what support they want as part of their plans, but the government believes the bigger problem lies with the bureaucratic design.

Mary Mallett, manager of the Speak Out Association of Tasmania, said some people were not getting what they deserved because they didn't know how and that independent advocates were not always called in when they should be.

"It's probably a little bit random at the moment and there are no clear processes about when to get an advocate in," she said.

"The whole point of the NDIS is that it provides choice and control to people with disabilities, but sometimes the plans they walk away with are not what's best for them but perhaps (suit) the service provider or even their own family."

Ms Mallett said she was aware of instances where family members had undue influence over the final outcome or where people with the same needs received different support from region to region because of the interpretation by agency staff of what was "reasonable and necessary".

"The issue in all these cases is that the advice of the independent advocate is not recognised as fundamental to the scheme," she said.

The government has concluded the processes and systems within the agency are "too cumbersome" to deal with the volumes of disabled people coming through and will need to be altered.

A proposed joint parliamentary committee to oversee the NDIS's implementation would examine the launch sites' experiences through hearings.

The Abbott government has indicated the NDIS's administration may be tendered out.