Vic Concerns Over Lack of NDIS Complaints
26 September 2017 at 8:24 am
Victoria is not seeing enough complaints about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to a new report.
The state Disability Services Commissioner (DSC) has tabled his 2017 annual report in Victorian Parliament with statistics and information about complaints and serious incidents that occur in disability services.
The report found there had been an increase in the number of NDIS-related enquiries and complaints from Victorians with a disability in the past year, up from 12 complaints in 2015-16 to 124 enquiries and complaints in 2016-17.
But commissioner Laurie Harkin AM said while it may seem like a large number, he was concerned they were “not seeing enough complaints” from the 15,000 Victorians with a disability who transitioned to the NDIS in the first full year of the roll out.
“We know anecdotally that many people have been unhappy with their NDIS planning process and with the way their plans have been delivered by their chosen disability services. Yet, we hear that people don’t know where to turn to for help, advice, and a resolution of their complaint,” Harkin said.
According to the report the DSC, an independent oversight body for the Victorian disability services sector, handled 1,213 enquiries and complaints in 2016-17, with a significant increase in concerns about quality of service (69 per cent in 2016-17 compared to 48 per cent in 2015-16).
Included in this 124 enquiries and complaints were related to NDIS-funded supports, including the NDIS planning process.
The report also highlighted 16 investigations were finalised in 2016-17, with the original complaints relating mainly to assault, abuse or neglect and 1,060 critical incident reports were reviewed in 2016-17, with 43 per cent relating to allegations of physical assault, 28 per cent relating to injury, 18 per cent relating to allegations of sexual assault, and 11 per cent relating to poor quality of care.
DSC capacity development manager Anthony Kolmus told Pro Bono News for the most part, the data collected “pretty much followed the pattern” expected, but they had anticipated more complaints and enquiries about the NDIS.
“We’re really supportive of the NDIS and we think it will ultimately be a really huge step forward for the sector but it is a huge undertaking, it is a really complex undertaking, and they are on some pretty tight timelines,” Kolmus said.
“I think we’ve all heard stories about some of the difficulties they [the NDIA] have experienced and that people have experienced with the planning process in particular and with that alone we probably expected to receive more enquiries and/or complaints.”
Kolmus said he thought the lower than expected number of complaints could be explained in part by the confusion surrounding the planning process itself, and a lack of understanding around where complaints should be directed that left people deciding to “just put up with what they’ve got”.
He said while the new NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission would make the complaints process a “bit simpler” in the future, the sector still needed “to work really hard at being really clear”.
“Even then you will have complaints about the NDIA and the non-government organisations providing planning going to the Commonwealth ombudsmen, whereas any complains about actual service provision would go to that new safeguard commission, so the sector is still going to need to work really hard at being really clear: ‘If your complaint relates to this, this is where you need to go, if it relates to that, then that is the path you need to follow’,” he said.
He said people entering the scheme already had “a lot on their plate”.
“Typically when you buy a new car you are not focused on all the things that are going to go wrong because it looks all shiny and you are trying to think positive, and it is a bit the same with this. People are concerned with getting the money and making sure they have got enough money for their supports and then taking it from there,” Kolmus said.
“Even if they are being given information about ‘here is the complaints process for that part of the process’, there’s so much information they are trying to take in, they may not be taking that in, so we continually reinforce to the sector don’t just tell people once what their options are, you need to be reminding them again and again [saying] ‘look, if you’re not happy at any point in the process, here’s what you’re options are’ and that’s going to need to continue for a number of years yet.”
He said there was also a sense with the NDIS that people with disability did not want “to upset the apple cart” by complaining.
“Towards the end of the trial period, so going back 18 months or thereabouts, there was I think it was called a Citizens Jury and they did a review of the trial sites, and it involved some people who had a background with a disability, including some people who had disability themselves, staff, as well as people off the street they randomly selected, and they looked at how well it is all working,” Kolmus said.
“One of the findings of that was that they believed there was still an element of, ‘you know what I’m just grateful for what I can get, and I don’t want to upset the apple cart by saying yes, it is this wonderful whizzbang new scheme and I’m still not happy’.
“At the end of the day, really for the last 50 or 60 years, people with disability and their families have had to make do with what they’ve got so they’ve got very used to ‘well if that’s the best I can get then I’ll make do with that and i’ll try build my life around that’.”
He said it required almost generational change to switch to a customer mindset.
“Hopefully it will be quicker, but I think for a lot of people it is really going be generational change to get them into that customer mindset of ‘I go to a restaurant, if I’m not happy typically I’ll let them know or we definitely won’t be going back to that restaurant’,” he said.
“I don’t think people with disability and their families are quite there yet, in fact, I’m quite positive the vast majority aren’t. They are still largely accepting of what they’ve got because they don’t want to upset the powers that be and they don’t want to upset their provider for fear of what might happen, they might lose their funding or they might lose the service.
“Some are, we’ve certainly had cases here at the office where people have brought complaints having already decided to move their supports from the providers that they’ve had but that is still relatively rare.”
Harkin stressed that the DSC, which was recently provided with additional powers to investigate and inspect disability services if there were concerns about violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation under the Disability Amendment Act 2017, was able to take complaints about NDIS-funded supports and Victorian disability service providers.
“Our office is available on 1800 677 342 to take enquiries and complaints about disability services. Even if we can’t deal with your complaint, we can help direct you to the right place,” he said.
“Everyone should feel confident in speaking up if they’re unhappy with their supports.”
To read the 2017 DSC Annual Report see here.