17 May 2018

Canberrans with a disability ground down by bureaucratic delays

| Ian Bushnell
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An understaffed and overly bureaucratic NDIA is letting down people with disabilities.

Canberrans with a disability dealing with the agency set up to administer the scheme that was supposed to make their lives easier have been forced back into hospital from the stress of long delays and an impersonal and rules-focused approach, according to the CEO of the ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS), Fiona May.

Ms May was responding to a damning report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the National Disability Insurance Agency’s administration of case reviews, which found under-resourcing and poor communication had contributed to about 8000 people still waiting on an outcome.

The report said that about a third of all complaints about the NDIA received between July 2016 and January 2018 had been about reviews.

In February there was a backlog of 8100 with the NDIA receiving about 620 new requests a week. A dedicated team established in November 2017 had failed to get on top of the backlog.

The Ombudsman said more should be done to ensure administrative drift or under-resourcing did not prevent National Disability Insurance Scheme participants from readily exercising their review rights, as well as to improve systemic issues such as poor communication.

“Without significant efforts to improve the timeliness of NDIA’s administration of reviews and communication with participants, there remains a risk that participants’ right to review will be undermined and review processes will continue to lack fairness and transparency and continue to drive a high volume of complaints,” the report said.

The NDIA has agreed to implement the report’s recommendations.

Ms May said many clients had experienced long delays, lost documents and had to deal with an unresponsive system, saying it had been a mistake to cap the number of staff at the NDIA.

“They are putting in internal review requests or change in circumstances requests, they’re not getting actioned for a really long time, documents get lost, and when they ring no one knows what’s going on. Communication is very poor,” she said.

The stress was making them more unwell, and some decided it was not worth the struggle and dropped out altogether.

Some unexpectedly faced being cut from the NDIS unless they produced medical evidence within a short timeframe.

“We have clients who unexpectedly get a letter from the NDIA saying ‘we’re reviewing your eligibility for the scheme, you’ve got 28 days in which to produce evidence of why you have a permanent disability that meets the criteria’,” she said.

“Getting in to a medical practitioner, particularly a specialist in order to get those sorts of reports and additional evidence takes a lot of time so we are very concerned about those cases where adults who had been accepted into the scheme and who had made the valid assumption that that meant they had support for the rest of their lives are suddenly getting these notices that their eligibility is getting reviewed.”

Ms May said the NDIS has fallen into the same trap as other government-funded support services with its bureaucratic processes and the legalese it used getting in the way of good communication.

“I don’t think that it was ever the intent of the scheme that it would be process-focused and this rules-driven in terms of forcing participants to jump through a lot of hoops, and some of those hoops aren’t even apparent until they’re suddenly in front of you. There is a lack of transparency in what those processes are,” she said.

Ms May said some had eventually had a good experience when they had finally been able to sit with the right planner and had the right conversation with the right information to have their needs met.

“Every person with a disability is different and their individual needs need to be heard and addressed,” she said.

The Ombudsman’s report can be found here.

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