New NDIS independent assessments slammed by disability activists
4 September 2020 at 5:52 pm
The NDIA says the assessments help to develop an overall picture of a person’s function in a number of areas of their life
Disability advocates fear the introduction of independent assessments in the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of people in the program, despite the government’s insistence the change will make the eligibility process simpler and fairer.
As part of the federal government’s response to the Tune Review, NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said last week that new independent assessments – fully paid for by the NDIS – will be progressively rolled out from 2021.
While people currently need to get reports from multiple health providers of their choosing to assess their NDIS eligibility, these new assessments would be conducted by NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals using standardised tools.
In a statement, Robert said independent assessments will “deliver a simpler, faster and fairer approach for determining a person’s eligibility”.
But disability activists such as NDIS participant Craig Wallace are not convinced.
Wallace, who is policy manager at ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), told Pro Bono News he was concerned that these assessments will be too brief to determine a person’s NDIS eligibility.
“It’s very difficult to assess a person’s full support needs based on a brief – in some cases 20 minute – interview that is going to be based on their capacities, not disabilities,” Wallace said.
“I’m certainly worried that some people might actually see this as a test that they have to pass and as a result may be seen as needing less support than they might actually need.”
Wallace said he saw this as a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of people on the scheme, noting these assessments will also be used to conduct plan reviews.
He said this called into question where people missing out on support will go.
“These people are going to wind up falling back on state and territory services, on families and carers, or potentially losing the support they need to retain employment,” he said.
“We’ve all seen through the job capacity assessments and the Centrelink systems around Newstart and Robodebt, how these systems can go very, very wrong.
“We don’t need that for people with disability.”
Under @stuartrobertmp @NDIS capability assessment changes disabled people are to be ‘observed’ in our native environment like zoo animals – assessors will come into your home and watch you make a cup of tea or perform a trick. Dignity? Human rights? #auspol pic.twitter.com/C7SuZV6o03
— Craig Wallace (@CraigWtweets) September 2, 2020
This reform comes on the back of an independent assessment pilot last year that used independent health professionals with experience in disability to undertake functional assessments of people’s capacity.
The National Disability Insurance Agency said this pilot found 90 per cent of participants were either very satisfied or satisfied by their experience, but the results have not been released publically.
Wallace said this showed a lack of transparency and that there was inadequate consultation before these assessments were announced.
“These assessments were a recommendation of the Tune review, but that review said that this should only be considered after careful and close consultation with people with disabilities, and we are not satisfied that that has happened,” he said.
“For many of us. The first time that we knew about this was when it dropped last Friday.”
People with Disability have also expressed concerns with independent assessments.
Romola Hollywood, PWDA’s director of policy and advocacy, told Pro Bono News that building relationships with medical and allied health professionals, and developing a productive, shared understanding of people with disabilities’ individual needs, can take a lot of time.
“Attending compulsory assessments with healthcare professionals we don’t know, who are unfamiliar with the particulars of our situations, with only one to four hours to communicate our needs and with our basic supports on the line, is highly distressing to many of us,” Hollywood said.
“We have asked the NDIS for clarification on the implementation of these assessments, and the proposal to introduce independent assessments should not go ahead until we know exactly how the model will impact people participating in the scheme.”
Wallace has also called for the government and NDIA to start again with the consultation process.
NDIA defends the reforms
The NDIA have denied that independent assessments will be used to make it harder for people to access the scheme.
An NDIA spokesperson told Pro Bono News the introduction of independent assessments has been part of ongoing discussion regarding improvements to the NDIS experience, including consultation with more than 40 peak health and disability bodies from across the sector.
They noted that independent assessments were first recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2011, as well as in the Tune review.
They said that independent assessments help to develop an overall picture of a person’s function in a number of areas of their life.
“Assessments are just one piece in a collection of supporting evidence the NDIA considers when making its decision and allocating funding. It does not replace the planning conversation participants will have with their local area coordinator or planner,” they said.
“These new assessments do not change the decision-making process of the agency. Plans will continue to be tailored to individual needs.
“We know that with change there can be uncertainty, that’s why we have begun talking about these changes well in advance of rolling them out so that we can continue gathering feedback, answer questions and address any concerns.”
A second pilot of the independent assessments involving an estimated 4,000 people will be completed by the end of the year to further inform the process.