‘It's a disgrace’: Criminal syndicate allegedly targets NDIS participants
23 May 2019 at 4:41 pm
Disability advocates say the onus is on the National Disability Insurance Agency to better screen providers, after members of an organised crime syndicate were arrested for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from the NDIS to buy luxury cars.
The government’s NDIS fraud squad arrested five people in western Sydney on Wednesday morning, after a six-month investigation uncovered the suspected defrauding of more than 70 people on NDIS plans, or those managing them.
Police allege those arrested used three registered NDIS providers – Universal Group Australia Pty Ltd, Reliance Disability Services and United Mission – to claim more than $1.1 million in NDIS payments.
Authorities also seized a Porsche Cayenne, an Audi A3 and Mercedes E63 believed to have been bought with money from the alleged fraud.
El Gibbs, the director of media and communications at People with Disability Australia, told Pro Bono News she was appalled by the alleged incident.
“I felt a bit sick reading about it… It’s a disgrace that people are ripping off people with disabilities and taking money for our essential supports and buying things like luxury cars,” Gibbs said.
She said the onus was on the NDIA to set up processes to screen registered providers so people with disability can have faith in the organisations they choose to deliver services.
“People who [run] registered providers need to have checks on them so we can be confident that providers are going to do the right thing and deliver services for us,” she said.
She added that while there had been a lot of focus on cutting red tape for NDIS providers, this case highlighted that the focus on NDIS reforms needed to be on people with disability, not on what was best for providers.
“I think it’s really important that any reform to the NDIS centres on people with disabilities,” she said.
“We need to be really careful to ensure any changes to how providers are registered do not lessen the burden on providers – in terms of making sure they’re good organisations and doing the right thing.”
Australian Federal Police acting commander Mark McIntyre said police were committed to stopping those deliberately exploiting people with disability.
“This is an organised criminal activity preying on those that society has chosen to help – it took money directly out of the pockets of NDIS participants, reducing their ability to obtain crucial assistance and services to help them lead their lives,” McIntyre said.
“Unfortunately this is not an isolated case, and we will continue to work with our taskforce partners to identify those preying on our needy and bring them to account for their selfish and despicable actions.”
The three providers are believed to have taken more than $2.6 million in NDIS payments since December 2017, with authorities yet to determine whether these payments are legitimate or fraudulent.
Authorities suspect syndicate members also applied to register another four NDIS providers to claim payments.
Gibbs said she felt extremely sorry for the victims of the alleged fraud, and said it was vital the NDIA did everything it could to support those affected.
“I really hope that the NDIA is putting extra resources into supporting people with disability who have been utterly let down by those providers and making sure they are not missing out on any essential supports that they need,” she said.
Acting NDIA CEO Vicki Rundle said the NDIA was committed to working with families impacted by alleged fraud, and ensuring they had their funds reinstated where appropriate.
She said she wanted to make it clear that fraud of the NDIS would not be tolerated.
“The NDIA takes the matter of fraud very seriously and will continue to invest in our capability to continue to identify attempts to defraud the scheme.”
The peak body for disability providers, National Disability Services, welcomed the arrests.
Acting CEO David Moody said any attempt to defraud people with disability from their NDIS supports and funds was appalling.
“The NDIA and Australian Federal Police have demonstrated the systems they have in place to detect and prosecute individuals trying to defraud people with disability are working,” Moody said.
“A new $22 billion scheme like the NDIS was always going to attract people who are looking for opportunities to rort the system. [These] arrests send a message to others thinking about doing this to think again.”
Moody said the people arrested, and their organisations, were not and never had been members of NDS.
He said NDS would continue to proactively support and advise its members so they knew their responsibilities as providers.