NDIS Transport Funding is an Unfortunate Lottery
2 May 2017 at 8:36 am
The lack of consistency in how participants are treated around the country in their use of taxi subsidy schemes makes a mockery of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as a universal program, writes Spinal Cord Injuries Australia policy and advocacy officer Tony Jones.
We know from recent media reports that the NDIA has appealed a decision by the federal court on transport funding for Geelong man Liam McGarrigle. They are asking the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to reconsider the amount paid – 75 per cent of transport costs totalling $15,850 per year on taxis transporting him to and from his work and NDIS-supported activities. As well they might be worried about costs escalating and blowing out the expected $22 billion a year funding at full scheme.
But transport funding under the NDIS has become, for new entrants, an unfortunate lottery for many people who have recently transitioned in. Here’s why:
According to the NDIS fact sheet, there are generally three levels of transport funding that you would be entitled to as a participant. Levels two and three equates to the two payment levels of the Mobility Allowance Centrelink supplementary payment for those unable to use regular public transport without difficulty. Beyond that there are “exceptional circumstances” in which you may be entitled to more but there is little information about how that would be assessed, say if you work full-time or have other formal obligations as set out in a participant plan.
Experience to date has shown that the three levels paid to participants have been inconsistently applied and often do not cover what a participant actually needs. Yes, there is now flexibility in the core support funding that can be utilised for transport costs but that means you are reducing funding that you would normally spend for daily personal care which can potentially leave you very vulnerable to a shortfall in this area: do I pay for help for a shower this morning or a taxi to get me to work?
Many participants rely on wheelchair accessible taxis (WATs) as their only form of transport. They cannot use other modes of transport and depending on where they live other forms of accessible public transport, such as buses and trains, may not exist. Their demands on WATs will be varied and not necessarily easily definable into work, study or volunteering which is the current eligibility criteria for the Mobility Allowance payment.
Those same users rely significantly on state and territory government funded taxi subsidy programs that in most cases cover around 50 per cent of the cost of a taxi fare (with a maximum limit of $60).
And here is the elephant in the room regarding transport funding and the NDIS: South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland have either removed or are in the process of removing, eligibility to those schemes for new NDIS participants. This will have a major effect on the cost of taxis for those participants.
With this lack of consistency in how participants are treated around the country in their use of taxi subsidy schemes, it makes a mockery of the NDIS as a universal program. This inequity will need to be addressed in how transport funding is applied to participants who are disadvantaged by this change. In all cases, the reasons given by state governments for removal of access to taxi subsidy schemes for NDIS participants is that they will receive transport funding in their plan. It makes no accounting for the needs of those participants who travel out socially or for other reasons not covered in the participant plan that will attract no transport funding. They are most certainly disadvantaged because of this.
To be clear, the state governments removing eligibility to these scheme for NDIS participants are shifting costs onto the NDIS.
There appears not to be any consistency or communication between the various state government agencies, the NDIA and the coordinating bodies (Department of Social Services in partnership with state level steering committees) responsible for the full roll out. This is clearly an issue that will need to be taken up at a national governance level with the Disability Reform Council. As it currently stands, there is no equity for participants that lose eligibility to taxi subsidies without a corresponding increase in their transport funding through the scheme. Transport agencies have a responsibility to provide adequate accessible services as part of their universal service obligation, irrespective of scheme eligibility, and not shift costs onto the NDIS.
Lastly, it is worth noting that these taxi schemes also offer bonuses to taxi drivers to improve response times for picking up subsidy scheme participants, called lifting fees or driver incentive bonuses, that give drivers around $15 additional per fare. Obviously if you are no longer eligible the driver does not get this bonus – government departments have not thought through this aspect of service that was designed to improve services to people with disabilities.
We know from experience that this will also have a negative effect on those being denied access to a taxi subsidy scheme with drivers less likely to accept jobs without the bonus.