News | 3 August 2020

Getting answers to the big questions – our Zoom forum with the NDIA

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A few screenshots from Zoom showing 66 people in a grid

Why can’t we have planning meetings over video? Why can’t we get contact details for staff at the NDIA? Why do approvals for equipment take so long?

And will you cut my funding next time because I did not use all of it as a result of COVID lockdowns?

Note: the answer to the question about masks and PPE has changed for some people in Victoria and New South Wales, allowing them to claim from their NDIS funds for PPE. Read our masks summary here, or check out the NDIS website for more on masks.

These were just some of the really important questions Every Australian Counts supporters asked staff from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) at our EAC Zoom forum last week.

Many of you will remember Scott McNaughton from our last Zoom forum. This time we were also joined by Sarah Johnson who is the NDIS Scheme Actuary.

Unless you are all girly-swot like us you might not know very much about Sarah and her team. The actuarial team are not only responsible for making sure the NDIS stays within its budget but also look at the sustainability of the scheme over the long term. Less well known is the fact that they are also responsible for collecting and analysing all the data about what people are using their funding for and what outcomes they are getting.

We know many people were disappointed that they were not able to join us on the day – so as promised you can watch the whole forum below (or skip to the transcript).

But if you are short on time (and these days who isn’t?) here’s super brief summary of just some of the things we talked about:

Woman shrugging What the hell happened to increased flexibility between core and capacity building?

You may remember that in a speech at the National Press Club late last year Minister for the NDIS Stuart Robert said:

“From 1 July 2020, and in line with functional assessments, we will aim to remove the distinction between core and capacity building so that participants and their families can use plan funding more flexibly on those supports that best meet their needs.”

We know just how many people’s lives are hanging on increased flexibility. We hear it from people all the time – run out of money in one area of your plan, have plenty left in another and zero ability to move it around. Beyond frustrating – and not the way the scheme was intended to work.

Well July 1 has come and gone but the flexibility between core and capacity building has not materialised.

Well turns out it’s a “good news/bad news” kind of a thing. The good news is – it’s not all off. Scott told us the work to make it happen is still going on. Phew – because we know people were worried it was no longer on the agenda.

But the bad news – COVID has significantly delayed the work. Because of COVID a whole bunch of NDIS projects (like independent functional assessments, joint planning) have all been put on ice or delayed.

So when will it come? Neither Scott or Sarah could give us a date.

This is going to be incredibly frustrating and disappointing news for many. We will keep pushing to get a firm date – and promise to let you all know as soon as we can find out.

So what can you do in the meantime? You can still call the NDIS call centre (1800 800 110), dial 5 and ask to speak to someone in the special coronavirus planning team. You can then ask them to shift funds from one area to another so you don’t run out of money.

But remember this is not just a simple phone call – it is what the NDIS calls a “light touch review”. While we are not in the business of giving advice we reckon it might be a good idea to make sure that it is crystal clear that you just want funds moved – and nothing else. Better to be safe than sorry.

😷 What is happening with PPE and masks?

Update: the answer to this question has changed for some people in Victoria and New South Wales, allowing them to claim from their NDIS funds for PPE. Read our masks summary here, or check out the NDIS website for more on masks.

That was Kystyna’s question. And the short answer – the NDIA are not budging.

Sarah reminded everyone that people can only use their NDIS funds to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if it was something they regularly bought before the pandemic began.

It’s true that service providers should provide their staff with PPE. That’s part of the job. But we do need consider people who self manage or employ their own workers.

In the middle of a pandemic where people with disability are at increased risk – either of infection or getting sicker or both – this decision doesn’t seem fair or sensible.

Sarah did say they were still looking at it so we will make sure we keep following this one up.

💻 Planning meetings – and plans

In the last few months we’ve all had to get used to Zoom and Teams and Skype and Facetime – and everything else we’ve used to stay connected when we can’t meet face to face.

So why is the NDIA still holding planning meetings over the phone – and why can’t we meet virtually? That was the really great question from Di (and one asked by lots of other people).

Scott told us that the NDIA has started holding some planning meetings on Teams where the participant has a Teams account.

But they realise not everyone has Teams so they are now looking at other options. Again no timeline but working on it.

And in some parts of the country where it is safe to do so, face to face meetings have already started again.

And Sarah and Scott also confirmed that people who don’t use all their funding this year because of COVID and lockdowns won’t face cuts to their plan next year.

Sarah said “I want to reassure participants … it is not true that plan (budgets) will be cut because they were not used in the previous year”.

☎️ And finally – just why can’t I speak to a real person?

Wendy and Karen’s questions to Scott and Sarah really sparked a flurry of comments and questions. Well not exactly a flurry – more like a snowstorm really.

Wendy and Karen’s simple request – why can’t we speak to a real person? Why can’t we get the full name and number of the people that we need to speak to? In Karen’s words, when you call the call centre it feels like your request disappears into a black hole – never to be seen or heard from again.

Scott said that the call centre staff were supposed to be able to help with simple requests. And that more complex questions and issues were supposed to be referred to LACs or NDIA staff for follow up.

But as the chat in the forum made clear – while it sounds good in theory, it is not what happens in practice. As we hear so often at our forums, too often it takes a long time, multiple calls and multiple emails to get even simple things fixed. Let alone things that are a bit more complicated.

We’ll keep pushing on that one too.

So finally …

They are just some of the things we covered in a super fast hour. For the full story please check out the video or the transcript below.

A BIG thank you to everyone who came along. An equally big thank you to all those who sent in questions before the forum –we are sorry we could not get through more of them. There were so many we had trouble choosing! Thank you to our fabulous EAC Champions Lynne, Chris and Peter who had the daunting task of asking the questions on behalf of everyone in our community.

We have already had some great feedback about how we can make the next one even better. We hope we will be able to do more of the sessions really soon – so stay tuned.

Want to know more?

If you want to read the full text of the Minister’s speech at the Press Club you can find it on the Department of Social Services website. Or you can read our quick summary.

Want to know more about NDIS outcomes data? Check out the NDIS Data and Insights website. Or check out the most recent Quarterly Reports on the NDIS website

All things masks and PPE can be found on the Coronavirus pages on the NDIS website.

And we have all the latest rules, regulations and helpful tips about masks on our website.


Kirsten Deane 0:00

Hello, everyone. Really big welcome to our second Every Australian Counts Zoom forum.

We’re really glad that you could make it along today. My name is Kristen Deane and I am the campaign director for Every Australian Counts.

I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting here today and pay my respects to elder’s past, present and emerging. I’m in Melbourne, which is Wurundjeri territory. But we’ve got people online today from all around the country. So I just encourage you to take a moment and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which you’re sitting today. And if you don’t know that might be something that you might like to chase up after the forum and learn a little bit more about the traditional owners of the land on which you’re today.

I also want to start by acknowledging the many many years of disability advocacy that have brought us to where we are today. We would not be here today, without the many individuals and organisations who have fought long and hard to advance the rights of people with disability in this country. It’s tireless and often thankless work, and I just want to acknowledge it.

And in this week – it’s a very sad week in particular – I would also like to say something about Sue Salthouse, a disability advocate that we lost very sadly, this week. Sue was a fierce and passionate advocate. She was a very wise and thoughtful leader. And she was a very generous and kind colleague. She was absolutely one of a kind. She’s going to be much missed. So I want to extend all of our condolences, very sincere condolences to everybody who knew and loved Sue.

And last but definitely not least, I want to extend a very big welcome to Scott McNaughton, and Sarah Johnson from the National Disability Insurance Agency. Scott is the General Manager of National Delivery at the NDIA. And Sarah is the Scheme Actuary. And we know because of COVID that everyone at the NDIA has got a lot on their plate at the moment. And so we are really grateful to Scott and Sarah for making time to be here today and to answer all of our questions.

Now I’m very quickly um going to let you know how this is all going to work.

So in something that’s just a little bit different this time, we’ve asked Sarah to just kick us off and tell us a little bit about her work. Now unless you’re a bit of a policy nerd like me, you might not know very much about what the Scheme Actuary actually does. But in an insurance scheme like the NDIS it’s a really critical role. So we’ve asked Sarah to explain a little bit about what she does and in particular, a little bit about the data that she has been collecting since the scheme began.

And then what we’ll do is we’ll turn to questions. Today we’re really fortunate to have three of our fabulous Every Australian Counts champions joining us today, Lynne Foreman, Peter Tully, and Chris Riordan. And Peter and Lynne and Chris are going to ask the questions that were sent in to us beforehand. Very important job.

And then what we’re going to do is then we will open up to all of you here participating today. And let me tell me how that’s gonna work. We’re expecting about 300 people here today, I noticed that we haven’t got quite that many at the moment. But you know, sometimes people find it a bit hard to log in. And so how we will manage the questions is that we’ll ask you to ask your questions in the chat down the side. And then what we’ll do is that we’ve got Afsah and Jean and Jenny online with us today and they will choose the questions and they will let you know that your question has been selected. And then when we get to that part of the forum, you will go off mute, and you will be asked to ask your question in person. So that’s how that’s going to work.

And I would just ask everyone, just one – if we could ask you one favour about the chat, which is, um, it’s a really stressful time at the moment. Everybody’s pretty anxious, everybody’s pretty worried. And everyone here is part of, you know, our community and we share that. And so we just ask a favour about the chat is that if we could be respectful in our comments, acknowledging that everybody is stressful and anxious, and that we don’t take it out on each other in the way that we talk to each other. And that we just keep the comments, you know, respectful and inclusive. It’s the same rules that we have at all our face to face forums and today isn’t any different. And we’re just asking, we’ve had some problems on social media in the last little while, and so we’re just really asking people at this kind of really difficult time to just please take a breath before you type, and remember that everybody in here is on the same journey and that we’re all in it together. So we really do appreciate your support on that.

Now, the technical kind of guff for today, is that if you have any problems with the chat, or with Zoom in general, we’ve got Afsah online with us today, and she can give you some tech support. So if you’re having any problems, use the chat function to reach out to Afsah. And it’s probably better, you can find Afsah if you go down to Participants down the bottom, you can search for Afsah’s name. And it’s probably if you’re having any issues, give Afsah a yell, but probably keep that in a private chat, because that’ll keep kind of those kind of issues out of the general chat and out of the questions.

We’ve got both captions and interpreters for this session. So you can view the captions in a couple of different ways. You can use the closed captions button that’s down the bottom of your screen. Or you can use the link that we sent to you and open up a separate window, and you can see the captions in a separate window. And if you’re finding that you’re not getting enough of the captions, by just having it in the view that you’ve got now, that might be the better way for you to see the captions more clearly.

We’ve also got the fantastic Imran and Tyson here today who are our interpreters. So if you’re using the interpreters, it’s probably better to pin them to your screen so you can get them at the same time. And obviously, as usual, they will switch between each other so you’ll just need to keep repinning whoever’s interpreting at that time. And again, if you’re having any problems, yell out to Afsah and she can give you a hand.

And the last thing I wanted to let you know was that we’re recording this forum here today. And that’s because we had heaps of people who wanted to join us here today. And we couldn’t fit everybody in. So we’ve promised to record it and pop it up on the Every Australian Counts website at the – next week, so that everyone who couldn’t make it can still have a chance to see what happened here today. So if you don’t want to be on the video, that’s absolutely fine. All we would just ask you to do is turn your video off now, so we don’t accidentally capture any vision from you. So if you could do that now that would be awesome.

Okay, ugh, that’s enough from me now, I’m going to throw over to Sarah now who’s going to tell us a little bit more about her work. Thanks, Sarah.

Sarah Johnson 7:51

Thanks, Kirsten, and thanks everyone for having me today. I’m really excited to be here.

As Kirsten said I am the Scheme Actuary of the NDIS. I’ve been the Scheme Actuary since 2013.

And one of my key roles is to monitor and analyse the financial sustainability of the NDIS. What do we mean when we say financial sustainability? Really, it’s two key things. It’s monitoring the participant outcomes and the outcomes of our families and carers. So for example – are our participants increasing their independence? Are they increasing employment and social participation, etc?

And it is also the cost of the scheme. So how much is it costing now? And how much is it costing into the future?

But it’s really important to know that it’s both of those things. So the extent to which we could get good outcomes and a good cost trajectory are both important things for my role.

So this morning, I just really wanted to highlight some of the reports that we’ve recently publicly released on participant and family and carer outcomes. I think – the whole NDIA thinks it’s really important that we publish this information so that everyone in the sector can start to think about how we get better outcomes for participants. And how do we encourage innovative ways in which we can achieve those outcomes. So I encourage you all to go to, to check out the reports.

I’m just gonna give you a few highlights of this particular outcomes framework questionnaires.

So we’ve adopted a lifespan approach to the questionnaire. So we asked questions in four main age groups – so from naught to starting school, from starting school to turning 14, then from 15 to 24. So that leaving school period then from 25 and over.

We also capture information across a number of domains – so choice and control, daily living, relationships, home, health and wellbeing, lifelong learning, work, and social community and civic participation.

It’s really important to note with us collecting all of this information that the NDIS can contribute and wants to get good outcomes across all of those domains. But other sectors do play a role, so education, for example, with lifelong learning. The housing – social housing, with housing. The health system with health and wellbeing. But we think it’s really important to capture all of that information. So again, a good wholesome view of how participants in our scheme and their families and carers are going.

The information we put out there, we’ve collected it on everyone who’s entered the scheme since 1 July 2016. And then we collect that information again at plan review, which for a lot of people is roughly a year later.

So the things I’m going to talk about now are the people who entered in 2016, and have now been in the scheme for two years. So we’ve got two years worth of information on how they’re travelling.

It’s also important to note that not everyone entered the NDIS on the same footing. So really, we’re looking at the change over time rather than exactly what the percentage was when people entered the scheme.

So in terms of some key highlights in those reports, um, I’ll just start with children age naught to starting school. So, importantly we do – have seen an increase in participation in community cultural and religious activities. And that’s increased from 64% to 71%. So quite a good increase. And we have taken into account aging in that as well.

The use of specialist services has increased from 74% to 97% under the NDIS. So a 23% gain.

And we’ve got a number of the parents and carers who are saying that their child fits in with everyday life – that’s increased from 67% to 74%.

In terms of areas for improvement, we have seen a lot of the parents of those children are saying that whilst their children are definitely more involved they would still like them to be more involved again, in terms of participation. And they’re also saying that they have got some concerns around developmental areas such as language, cognition, etc.

In terms of our school-age participants to those that are 14, we’ve certainly got some improvements in independence. So we’ve got more becoming independent from 43% to 50%. We’ve got children spending time away from parents and carers so from 30% to 33%. And children have friends they enjoy spending time with that’s increased from 47% to 49%. So some increases there as well.

Once again, the key finding as well is that parents still like their children to be more involved than they are even though there’s some increases there.

In terms of participants age 15 to 24. We’ve got an improvement in work. And some of that is leaving school, but nonetheless we’ve got an improvement from 13% to 22%. That’s a big gain. We’ve also got an increase of 12% in social participation. So from 31% to 43%. We’ve also had people with the opportunity to learn new things, which is also important. So that’s gone from 53% to 65%.

Interestingly was the participants in that group who said that with the NDIS they’ve got more choice and control, more of them are now saying they’d also like even more choice and control. So we can see as people start to understand what’s possible, they’re actually thinking bigger about what choice to control is. I think that’s a positive but also ways for us to start thinking about how we can provide for those participants.

In terms of our participants aged 25 and over, big increases in social participation. So from 36% to 47%.

We’ve also had some big gains in health and wellbeing which I think is important to highlight. The percentage of participants who have been to hospital in the last 12 months decreased by 6%. So that went from 41% to 35%. And the percentage who’ve had no difficulties accessing health services increased, so that went from 69% to 73%. And the people that see a regular doctor also increased. So from 88% to 95%. So the gains in the health and wellbeing.

We’ve also had some gains in relationships. So people saying they’ve got people to call on outside of their home, that’s increased by 9%. So from 81% to 90%.

We’ve got more people learning new things. That’s increased from 47 to 51%.

Similar though to our 15 to 24-year-olds was they’ve got more choice and control a lot more control again.

And they also have some concerns around their own actual self-rated health. As we see people age, we do see that they rate their own health, not as much as good and very good as they might have been the past. There’s probably a little population aging happening there as well.

And then in terms of our families and carers, we also make sure we collect data on their outcomes as well. For our parents and carers about children (so nought to 14), the percentage of paid jobs has increased by 5%. So from 46 to 52%, and there was an increase in the number working more than 15 hours per week by 5%, as well. So from 79 to 84%.

We also have the families and carers saying that their relationship with services is good, that’s increased from 79 to 89%, so by 10%.

And we’ve also got the percentage of families and carers saying that they know what specialist services are needed – that increased 41% to 52%.

For our parents and carers of participants aged 15 to 24, we’ve had a bit of an increase in those working in a paid job, but we’ve had more of an increase in those being able to work more than 15 hours which has been quite positive. And we’ve also had similar for our 25 and over. We’ve once again we’ve had little increases in work, but more being able to work over the 15 hours.

Probably the thing that they’re saying as well is while they’ve got better access to services, more succession plannings in place, etc – they do say that their own health and wellbeing in terms of their self-rated of health has declined a little bit. And certainly some of the informal networks over time have declined a little bit. So things that we need to think and work about there.

But then the main things I wanted to say about that Kirsten, just to give people a flavour. And as I said, I really, really encourage you – to check out those reports in more detail.

Kirsten Deane 16:49

Thank you so much, Sarah. That’s great. And I would also, can I follow up with saying that check out the data reports on that website, but also, the Agency releases Quarterly Reports. And it can’t just be nerdy people like me who go through the Quarterly Reports. There’s some great data in there. And so, again, if you go to the NDIS website, and you use the search function and find all of the Quarterly Reports from since the scheme began, are all up there. So that’s another place you can go to look at some of the data that the scheme is collecting.

Okay, thanks so much, Sarah. All right. I am going to throw over to the fabulous Lynne, who’s got a few questions that she’s going to ask Scott and Sarah, that have already been sent in by some of our supporters.

Hey Lynne.

Lynne Foreman 17:33

Hello, how are you?

Um, yes. Scott you’re my first person. Um, Scott. There’s a lot of people asked a version of this question, and we’ve chosen one from Natalie. Natalie says, “When is the NDIA going to back up the mantra of choice and control and give us more flexibility with how we use our funds. When will all the funding categories be pooled so I can have real choice and control? Sorry.

Scott McNaughton 18:07

Thanks Lynne, nice to see you. And thanks for your question Natalie. Certainly is comes up it’s very topical this question and we all know the scheme is about providing participants with more choice control over how they access their disability related needs. Certainly a key or a focus for us – we saw this come up in the consultations for the Tune review – we hear it in lots of forums that participants just want more flexibility over their current plans.

We’ve been doing a bit of work, as people might know to make the core budgets as flexible as possible. So we put in some system changes in the middle of this year or a couple of months ago now that allows you to use your core budget very flexibly across all those items, except if you get periodic transport, so that was a good and important change, first up. We certainly would like to do more work though, Lynne and Natalie on how we can make the entire plan more flexible. It’s on our radar, we’ve been a little bit distracted and focused on getting some other work done during COVID to make sure participants are supported and making sure people are accessing their key supports. But it’s something that certainly we’re going to continue to work on to see how we can make the rest of the plan more flexible. But in the meantime, participants can use their core as flexibly as they like essentially without the transport component. So, so encourage people to do that. And uh stay tuned, we’ll keep working on this. We know it’s a big area of focus, Natalie, we know it’s really important to people, but it’s something that as I said is on our work plan and we’re and we’re still working through. It is a big system change, to be very honest about how we’ve constructed the system at the moment, but it is an area that we will continue to work on for you.

Lynne Foreman 19:55


Okay, my next question is for Sarah. This is a follow up question from Heather, “What happened to the flexibility between core and capability [capacity] building that was supposed to be introduced on the first of July?”

Sarah Johnson 20:16

Thanks, Lynne, and good to see you as well haven’t seen you for a while. So good to catch up, even if it’s over Zoom.

And thanks Heather for your question. I think Scott covered it well. You are right, we were intending on increasing the flexibility of our plans between core and capacity building supports on 1 July 2020. And that was announced by our Minister last November. Unfortunately, though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to pause some of these projects. As you know, as Scott said, it is difficult for us to make the changes in the IT system that were required. But we’re working hard to make sure that that’s going to be possible. We have increased the core support flexibility that’s in budgets. [Inaudible]. Basically, we’ll make sure that all of those flexibilities that we’ve got in place for COVID that will remain. And we’re working hard to when we can increase the flexibility more so across the whole plan, and we’ll keep you updated on dates as to when we’re going to be able to make that possible. But still definitely something that we’re working on and that we want to move towards.

Kirsten Deane 21:32

Lynne I think you’ve got one question left?

Oh, we might have lost Lynne.

Lynne Foreman 21:40

No, I’m still here. Sorry.

Computer issues. Can you hear me?

Kirsten Deane 21:45

All good.

Lynne Foreman 21:47

Oh good. Okay. Scott, this is for you as well. Sorry, final question. And finally, this a related question from Phillip “At this time of isolation, our disabled family member’s core funds for social and community participation has been untouched. Meanwhile, her capability [capacity] building funds for therapy are running down fast with various Zoom specialist sessions. Could NDIA please make it possible to access core funds for capacity building when those very limited CB funds run out? We had heard this was possible, but our plan manager says no. Who is correct?”

Scott McNaughton 22:39

It’s a good question. Thanks, Phillip. similar theme. So at the moment, the only way we can move funding from your capacity building budget to your core budget is by us doing what we call a light touch plan review. That’s the problem with – we just don’t have that level of flexibility built into the system yet. And we hear a lot Phillip about people who were doing some really good things during the sort of COVID lockdown period, with lots of Zoom meetings and lots of Zoom chats with their therapists. And using their capacity building budget really well, whilst they weren’t access, able to access their, many core services, and so the core was sitting there, largely for some people untouched. So this is the change that Sarah was just mentioning, we’re going to aim to make in our system over time, hopefully. That’s certainly our plan.

In the meantime, in the meantime, if people need to move money between their capacity building budget, and their core budget, they should contact us. Contact our national contact centre. We’ve got a team of planners that we put in place there throughout COVID, who can do what we call light touch plan reviews for people if they need that to happen. It’s not a very onerous activity for us to do. And if a person requests that we’ve got, as I said, a group of people there that can make that move and essentially just move money from the right to the left or the left to the right. If that’s that the goals and the desires of the person. So again, contact us. I think you press five once you call the 1800 number [1800 800 110]. And you can the staff there will um, take your query down and they’ll refer that on to our team of planners who can make those changes to make those light touch reviews for you, Phillip.

Kirsten Deane 24:30

That’s great. Thank you very much, Scott. Um, Chris, I’m going to throw over to you. I think you’ve got a couple of questions.

Chris Riordan 24:42

Thank you Kirsten. And welcome everyone. My first question’s for Scott. Welcome Scott. And, it’s from Sue. Thank you Sue for your question. “Why is there so much inconsistency around plan rollovers? Some people get told no – they must have a review. Some people get it rolled over, only to find out that they have had their funds cut. Some are getting their plans rolled over with no communication. What is supposed to happen here? Could you give us some clarification?

Scott McNaughton 25:43

Thanks, Chris. And also thanks Sue for the question.

We’ve been doing – during COVID, we did a couple of key system changes. So people could continue to make sure that they are getting their support services they need.

One of the changes we put in place back in about April was that if anyone’s plan expired before we could do a scheduled plan review, their plan automatically extended or rolled over for another 12 months. That was really important for us to put that in place, so no one missed out. That people could continue to get their services, continue to get their supports, and there was no gap at all. So that was a really important change we put in place, but it was what I call a safeguard or a fallback position.

What we are aiming to do is now have conversations with participants about the type of plan review they would like to have. Whether that people are comfortable with their plan, they think their current plans, you know, meets their needs, meets their goals, it’s fit for purpose. We can have a conversation to do what as you said Chris, a rollover or to renew their plan. So they don’t have to go through a full plan review. The plan looks and feels about right we can do a renewal of that current plan. Some people might just need some minor adjustments. Some things might come out, some things might need to go into their plans, there might be some changes. We call that a light touch review. So it’s not, we don’t have to review the entire plan, we might just review parts of the plan. And for some people, they may need a full plan review because of life event changes. Potentially they’re finishing school and they were looking at school to work transition, there might be some changes around their informal supports, or even their level of function or other impacts in their life. So we want to have – not a one size fits all approach to plan reviews. We want to make it very individualised and tailored. And so that’s where we’re getting to.

We got a lot of feedback and positive feedback throughout COVID around the rollover and renewal process. We’re going to be doing some work over the next month or two to actually try and put that model in and roll that out nationally. But really Chris going to the type of review should be tailored to that individual. And if they’re happy in couple with their plan, and then they’ve got, you know, potentially people who are on their third or fourth plan now, they’re really comfortable with their goals their life goals where they’re up to, their plan could easily be a longer plan or rolled over without full reviews each year. So I hope that helps Sue and Chris.

Chris Riordan 28:29

Okay, and I’ve got one more. And it’s from Di. Thank you Di. And it’s also appropriate for me with my speech impediment I have Cerebral Palsy. I’ll put the question to you Scott. “Why can’t planners and LACs do video meetings? Phone meetings are very challenging (especially for me). For many people especially when they can’t have support during the meeting.” And if I may add for me, because I’m so hard to understand – as everyone can see or hear – um, people often get frustrated with me, and then I get frustrated with them. So, um, video would be the ideal solution for us Scott.

Scott McNaughton 29:44

Oh thanks. Thanks Chris. I totally agree. I think we’re getting pretty good at using this technology nowadays too. You know, sort of the Brady Bunch thing of everyone up on the screen when you’re having conversations. So look at during COVID, obviously, where people weren’t when we had to stay home or not travel around. We did a lot more of our meetings by telephone. But we did have our Agency uses a software program called Microsoft Teams. And so when any of our participants also had a Microsoft Teams account, we were able to use that for some planning conversations. But we do want to have a look at what are some of the options moving forward so that we can have more online type conversations. Because, Chris, we are getting lots of feedback from people saying exactly that. Can we have this via video, we can see your face, we can have a chat, we can have our support people, my friend or relatives who’s helping me on another device come in. So it is something we have been doing it not as widely because our technology isn’t quite there yet, but it’s certainly something that we’re having a look at.

We’re also hearing now in other parts of the country that are getting a little bit more COVID free that people are starting to come back in and have face to face meetings again, because that’s their choice. And ideally, we want it to be about a person’s choice, Chris. So if they choose to come into the office, and I was talking to a manager down in Tasmania last week, they said, they’re getting a lot more people coming back in for face to face meetings now. Whereas of course in parts of Melbourne unfortunately, we’re probably not going to be doing too much face to face for the next little while until we get through this next range. But we, where a person has – long story short, Chris – where we do have access to that technology and the person wants to use it, will use it. But we do need to explore other options in case they don’t have the same technology the Agency’s using at the moment.

Chris Riordan 31:46

Thank you for your time, Scott.

Scott McNaughton 31:50

Thanks for your questions, Chris.

Kirsten Deane 31:53

Thanks, Chris. And now Peter. I’m going to throw over to you and I think you’ve got the last couple of questions.

Peter Tully 32:06

Thank you Kirsten. My question is from Jude and I’m really excited to be asking this question because this question relates to – for Linda and me – wife Linda and me, in regards to our son as well. And this question is for Sarah. The question is “My son has not been accessing his usual supports because of COVID-19. Will his funds be cut next year because he has not been able to use his funding? And how is the NDIS supporting people who can’t access their usual supports because of unclarified – underlying health issues and the risks COVID-19 has presented them? We’ve had no information from the NDIS, or our LAC, Support Coordinator, or plan managers, around this.” Thank you Sarah.

Sarah Johnson 33:22

Thanks, Peter. And thanks Jude very much for your question. But I just want to really reassure participants that we’ll always make sure that the plan budget has sufficient funding to get access to your disability related support. So it’s not true that a plan will be cut because it wasn’t used in the previous period.

We have certainly noticed some changes to the way in which participants are using their plans. Being the Actuary and the data person I am I can see a shift to more activities in the home compared with some of the social participation activities in the past. And we are trying to make sure that all of our participants do have access to their essential services. So we’ve made a number of outbound calls to participants to check that they are getting those services. We really encourage participants too who have any trouble accessing services to call the NDIA on the 1800 number. So 1800 800 110 and then dial the 5 for the dedicated COVID-19 line, because those planners can help in certain circumstances where people are concerned about not getting their essential services. We have, however, seen some really positive examples of some of the service providers being able to move some of their services online. So that has been has been good. And we’ve tried to improve how people can use their plans as Scott mentioned before in terms of increased flexibility with how you use it. So I hope that answers your question Jude.

Peter Tully 34:56

Ah, thank you Sarah. And Sarah I’ve got another question for you from Krystyna, “With the new rules in Melbourne with the NDIS will the NDIS pay for face masks?”

Sarah Johnson 35:15

It’s a really good question, Krystyna, thanks for asking it. Um, we really encourage everyone who has been using PPE to continue to use their plans for their PPE and for them to use their usual channels for them to be able to access that. Where those usual channels have become problematic for our self-managed participants and providers there is the National Stockpile, which we’re assisting people to get access to in terms of the PP equipment. And it is important though, that that the masks are an everyday cost and at the moment, we we don’t expect our participants who weren’t previously using the PPE using their plans. It is something that we’re looking at doing a lot of detail considering the announcement from the Victorian government and in the metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in particular around the lockdown, so we’re looking at it. And we do note that the Premier this morning in Victoria has announced free masks for vulnerable people, including people with a disability. So looking at how we best work with the state government in terms of making sure people have access to face masks.

Peter Tully 36:26

Thank you Sarah. Then my final question is for Scott and it comes from Gary. “How come it takes so long for the NDIA people to give an approval for equipment purchases. The OT has done their bit, and I’ve done my bit, and all the paperwork required is in order. Why does it take so long?”

Scott McNaughton 36:59

Thanks Peter. And thanks for your question, Gary. Obviously I don’t know the individuals of your circumstances but happy to get your details and follow them up. So I’ll work with Kirsten on that.

Just at a high level though we’ve been doing a lot of work on assistive technology based on the feedback exactly like that Gary that it’s just been people experiencing delays. It’s taking too long for them to access their assistive technology even for smaller amounts of assistant technology. We put in place well over a year ago now that participants can use up to $1500 without having to purchase without having to get quotes for the AT items, their low cost AT items. And we’ve been making some more changes for AT items up to the value of $5,000 as well. So that’s been an important change. We’ve put in additional staff to help clear through all those requests. We want to make sure we’re able to get people’s AT out to them quickly. Now, some are more complex than others, of course, and do require quite specific types of assessments from Occupational Therapists, similar with home modifications and others. So sometimes it does take a bit of time to get the right assessments and paperwork done. So we’re trying to work our way through that as quickly as we can. But also trying to make it as flexible for participants to get their low cost AT themselves without having to get lots of quotes and things. And they can work with their providers to do that quite quickly, and quite simply. So we are hoping Gary that these wait times have now been reduced. But I’m happy to follow up your specific circumstances with Kirsten and the team out of session too.

Kirsten Deane 38:51

Thanks, Scott. And yes, we can work with you after this to follow that up. That’d be great.

Okay, and I just wanted to – for everyone who’s going to watch this later, I want to just wanted to give a really big shout out to all the people who sent in questions ahead of this forum. We couldn’t possibly get through all of the questions that we were sent in. But I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who did.

Now we’re going to hear from you. And so I know that Afsah and Jenny and Jean have been chatting to people in the background. I am now going to throw over to some people to ask Scott and Sarah some questions. I just would ask one favour, because we are now up to more than 200 participants here today, I would just ask if you could ask your question. And then let Scott and Sarah answer, but we’re really sorry, we won’t be able to do follow up questions because we want to try and get through as many questions as we can in the rest of the time we’ve got available. We’ll just throw to one person at a time and we appreciate you understanding that.

So I’m going to kick off with Dave. And I think Dave had a question for Sarah, about goals and how that relates to participants’ funding. So thanks, Dave.

Dave 40:02

Thank you so much. Um, really happy to see you all here. I’m really, really pleased to see the interaction and the answers and questions. Thank you so much in advance. I wanted to ask about the information Sarah, you were giving about some of the improvements and performance – goal improvements, things have happened during the life of the scheme. And I’m wondering how likely it is for participants to start seeing a bit of a push for, you know, some kind of goal attainment or, you know, some kind of performance measure before future funding will be granted. Or maybe to say that more simply, will we have to show that we’ve achieved our goals in the first plan to get funding our second plan? Thanks.

Sarah Johnson 40:49

Thanks for your question, Dave. I think there’s probably a number of ways in which to think about your question. So as you know, we do have goals in plans – can everyone hear me at the moment? [Nodding] Yes?

Kirsten Deane 41:11

Yes, we can.

Sarah Johnson 41:12

Alright, sorry I just had something flash up on my screen that said tech support. And I thought, oh, uh-oh, could have a problem.

Sorry, to head back to your question on goals. As you know, in the plans, people put down as many goals as they would like in that plan and the planner works through reasonable and necessary supports for that person to help in achieving those goals. At the Scheme we would like to start understanding the extent to which our participants are achieving their goals, but it has not been a prerequisite to achieve goals to get funding in, in, in future plans. That’s not the way in which we’re, we’re thinking about it. But we would like to understand the extent to which people do manage to meet their goals in particular, then we can analyse all of that information to get a much better understanding of what’s working well, and what might not be working as well. So if certain service providers, particular models of support, etc, are really working well and getting people good outcomes. And we want to be able to share that information. To the extent to which we can understand which participants and how they’re meeting their goals is just really useful in terms of building on everyone managing to achieve their goals and get better outcomes. I think it’s important we collect the information. It’s clear what a person’s goals are in their plan, and then the reasonable and necessary supports in the plan are clear. But no, we don’t expect you to meet your goals necessarily. Then that future funding, that will then depend on the reasonable and necessary support requirements for that future plan. Does that help Dave with your question?

Kirsten Deane 42:54

I think Dave’s still got himself on mute. I will jump in and say thanks, yeah, thanks Sarah.

Dave 42:59

Absolutely, great. Thank you. Sorry, yep.

Kirsten Deane 43:03

We’re all getting used to this aren’t we!

Sarah Johnson 43:06

It’s been a learning curve for everyone in terms of all the different types of Zooms, Teams, Skype that we now use.

Kirsten Deane 43:15

Yeah. And there are – I mean, it feels funny to say there are some silver linings in this. In that one of the things is that we’ve got people here from all around the country. And we couldn’t have done that any other way without doing it on this technology, and we’ve been able to reach people who we wouldn’t have otherwise had – which is kind of the silver lining of this.

Um, okay. I’m gonna throw to Clare, who’s got a really good question about employment and getting employment into people’s plans. Clare, are you there?

Clare 43:45

Oh, um sorry, yeah. I thought I was asking a different question. That’s okay. So my question is, how does the Agency see micro-enterprise and self-employment fitting into the employment strategy? It’s not specifically mentioned in the price guides. But, you know, it’s actually probably more so now that jobs are drying up. How do they see that fitting into and being supported by the NDIS in an employment strategy?

Scott McNaughton 44:22

Thanks, Clare. Great question, Scott here, I’ll kick off and Sarah, jump in if you like.

It’s a really, really good question. And when you look at the employment strategy, Clare it really requires a diverse mix of employment options for people with disability to make it work. It has to include small to medium enterprises, it has to include micro-businesses, it has to include self-employment, etc. Relying on just big business to do it just won’t cut it. So we’ve got some really strong corporate targets really around increasing employment outcomes for people with disability within the scheme. Hence the plan. What we’re trying to do with the price guide is to make sure that regardless of the type of work setting a participant is, they can get the support they need in that setting. There’s a whole range of other government programs to help start small businesses and so forth. What we’re trying to make sure we do is price right the supports a person needs in their workplace setting regardless of what that workplace setting is. And if we need we’ll continue to look at this, I guess over the next year or two, because if there are more innovative workplace models and settings emerging, we may need to respond to that. But we’re hoping at the moment it’s really about the supports an individual needs, regardless of where they go to work and what does that look like.

Sarah Johnson 45:51

I might just add too Clare, work is a big part of the outcomes data that I was mentioning earlier in our chat. And we can see that the employment levels are not where we want them to be yet. We’ve got targets of increasing them from where they are now. So I would also just encourage people to look at some of the data out there, which is sort of talking about the paths to employment people have now, and start thinking about better ways in which we can get participant’s into work. As Scott mentioned, we made some changes to the way that we’re funding it. So it is more flexible for a variety of different work arrangements. Um, so we’re hoping that’s one way in which we can get more people with a disability employed.

Kirsten Deane 46:33

And that’s something we all want – more people with disability employed, that’d be great. I am going to throw to Heather. Heather’s got a question about what’s happening to some work that started pre-COVID, about planning meetings. Heather, I’ll throw to you.

Heather 46:50

Thanks, Kirsten. And thanks, Scott and Sarah. Can you hear me okay? Yeah? [Nodding] Yeah.

What happened to three way meetings and draft plans? I haven’t heard of anyone being offered this option. And you know, why does Stuart Robert announce these things? Yet no action is taken? It’s like the core and capacity building funding that was meant to be interchangeable, he announced in November. And I know you’ve addressed that. But you get our hopes up and we think, ‘oh, this is great’. And then we’re still waiting six months, eight months later. So yeah, I just wanted to know, is that going to become a reality? And if so, when? Thanks.

Scott McNaughton 47:30

Yeah, thanks, Heather. Good question. We actually commenced – we – it’s called the three way planning meetings. We call them joint planning. We actually started the trial of this in Robina in Southeast Queensland. We kicked it off earlier this calendar year and we started getting some really positive results out of it. And the concept for those that are not familiar with it is the conversation is between the Local Area Coordinator, the agency planner, and of course the participant, and whoever they choose to be with them. And what it does, it puts all the parties in the room at the same time. We go through, look at the plan, make sure it’s fit for purpose, make sure it includes all of the key supports the person requires. It’s covered off the goals and aspirations well. We talk about the plan and the implementation, the next steps. And we we’re getting really high levels of being able to approve that plan in that meeting. And that was something we were trialling. Unfortunately, Heather COVID came along and we had to stop all face to face planning or most of face to face planning moved to phone based planning. Um, so we are looking, when do we start to recommence that? When is it safe to do so? When are we going to see more people comfortable coming out and having face to face planning meetings again? It was certainly something that is in the Minister’s plan. The Minister had announced that launch of this and so on. And it included what we call the draft plan summary, which a participant was able to get an early copy of their draft plan summary, after their first interaction with their Local Area Coordinator, they had time to look at that, reflect on it, and then bring that into the joint planning meeting. So it was unfortunately derailed a little bit because of COVID. And we’re now looking at what’s next in terms of recommencing that within Queensland or alike. So we haven’t made decisions on that yet. We’re just considering the timing of it.

Kirsten Deane 49:36

That’s great. Thank you, Scott. And I note, we’ve actually been asked that question a lot at Every Australian Counts, so it’s really great that we can clarify that.

Um, we’ve got Wendy who wants to ask a question about trying to contact people at the NDIA. Wendy, do you want to ask your question?

Wendy 49:55

Yes, please, very much so. I’ve got to say I’m yet to have a positive interaction with the NDIS. I’ve been made ill with one nightmare after another. One of the things in particular that intrigues me is why it is that it’s acceptable for the NDIS to send out official formal correspondence signed off with only a given name, and sometimes only part of a given name. I’ve spoken to a couple of Directors at NDIS, who’ve given me various reasons for this, but mostly they talk about the privacy and protection of NDIS staff. As a child protection worker, I’m required to give my full name including middle names to families that I’m working with, where they would naturally feel under threat. Similarly would be police. And yet, I can wait three months for a reply to a letter. It can be signed off by someone called Joe, or Sue, or Pat, or Chris, where I’ve got no way of knowing their surname, no way, of contacting them. And if I persist I might well be told, well there’s three Sue’s at this office. So why is it acceptable to send out official correspondence with no more than a first name or part of the first name? No contact details, no surname? Nothing. Why is that okay?

Scott McNaughton 51:20

Yeah, Wendy, thanks for your question and your feedback, and apologies that you haven’t had the experience that certainly we expect to that standard. So, you know, my apologies for that.

In terms of our correspondence – so my full name goes out on lots of letters for people and so it should. When an individual staff member or Local Area Coordinator issues a letter or correspondence, what we encourage them to do is put their full first name and their first initial of their surname, and then within our business system, within our ICT system, that is what we call an interaction record. So if anyone rings and says I spoke to Scott, we know through the process, we can track quite easily who that person was. Our national contact centre can do that. So if that’s not been your experience, I’m happy just to make sure and reinforce that practice, because that’s what we’ve agreed. And I’m happy to take that on Wendy to make sure that that’s happening. I’ve certainly seen it happen on some of the letters that I’ve reviewed recently. But clearly it hasn’t happened in your experience Wendy, so I’ll take that on and make sure that that practice is reinforced and being followed.

Kirsten Deane 52:38

Thanks, Scott. And I’ve just seen in the chat that quite a few are mentioning that that’s a similar experience that they’ve had. Really good to follow that one up. And this is kind of a related one. I think we’ve got a few Karen’s online, but I’m going to go to Karen Cleland, who’s got a question about the calling the 1800 number, the NDIS call centre. Karen, are you there?

Karen 53:03

Good morning. Hi, how are you today?

Yeah, my question is, I’m a support coordinator in WA, and you know often have to ring the 1800 number for a number of issues. Um, problem I always have it’s like it, it’s a telephone call, like the black – my question goes into the black hole at the NDIS basically. Nobody is ever able to give me a definitive answer. And always say to me, I’ll escalate this to you know, the specific team. And then I spend so much time calling again and again just to try to find a definitive answer. And you know, this is time and money really that the NDIS is spending, you know, as me as a Support Coordinator, as you know, supporting my clients. However, you know, some of the people haven’t got support coordination in their plan. And we are dealing with vulnerable people. You know, which again, you know, it’s a vulnerable person calling the NDIS and they get this response all the time. It just leaves them feeling hopeless and not being able to move forward.

Scott McNaughton 54:20

Karen, thanks, thanks for your question and feedback. Obviously, what we’re trying to do is create the opportunity for participants and support coordinators and providers to have their key questions answered by our national contact centre. Where they are more complex or challenging, there will be a referral point into our Local Area Coordinator or to our escalation team within our service delivery staff.

Also, we really want to make sure I think too Karen, is making available frequently asked questions, good clarity around common questions, where you can get lots of information on our website, etc, because there’s a lot of information there. And so if there’s things – I’d be really interested Karen, you can shoot me an email about the sorts of queries that you’re raising that you’re not able to get answers to. Are they around pricing, around plans, around progress, etc. So, because we’re always trying to update our website and our comms to make sure that that level of information is available for people. So if you’ve got any specifics, you can flick them through to Kirsten and team because that’s something we’re really keen to continue and improve as well.

Kirsten Deane 55:38

Yep, absolutely. Thank you, Scott. Um, I’m looking at the time and I think we’re just going to try and squeak in just two more questions, and then we’ll finish up. So I’m going to throw to Leanne, who’s got a question about what’s happening with the Participant Services Guarantee. So Leanne are you there?

Oh, I think we might have lost Leanne. I’ll give it one more try. Leanne are you there?

No. Okay, we seem to have lost Leanne. All right. Um, let’s go to Jane, from who’s online from Tazzie today, and Jane’s got actually a question for Sarah.

Jane, you there? And do you want to ask your question of Sarah?

Jane 56:32

Yes. Look, Sarah I just wanted to know. Um, I’m doing research as well around self-determination. And I was just wondering if you could tell me how the – how you guys actually measure self-determination? Because you did in the 2018 report, but I’d like to know how you actually collect that, you know, how you name that up. More specifically in the 2019 report, please.

Sarah Johnson 57:03

Thanks for your question, Jane. We ask a lot of questions around the topics of self-determination. Obviously, we understand that resilience can be a key factor in participant outcomes, etc. Within the report you can go through and you can look at all the different indicators. There’s some in the relationships domain. There’s others in the health and wellbeing domain around those sorts of self-determination measures, recognising there’s definitely more than one way to look at that.

I also encourage you if you do for your research and need some additional information or data, we do have a specific data request process that you can use. So you can log on, you’ll find it on the website. It’s a tailored data request form.

And if you look through that outcomes framework with [inaudible] help you with information around self-determination.

Yeah, things like the brief resilience scale and things we have looked at in the past, we didn’t make it as explicit in the 2019 report. But there’s a lot of data there that can be explored.

Kirsten Deane 58:14

That’s great. Thank you very much, Sarah. So I’m going to squeak one more in before we finish and I’m going to go to Jacqui Funnell. Jacqui, if you can make it quick, we can squeeze your question in. So I think that you’ve had a question about how and why support coordination gets funded in people’s plans. So Jacqui, are you there?

Jacqui 58:37

Yeah, I’m trying to be [laughs].

Kirsten Deane 58:43

We love your photo, Jacqui. There you go.

Jacqui 58:45

Oh thanks. That’s the family.

I had several questions that I just rattled off so that they get passed on to the agency following this. That particular one was at my planning meeting – my first ever planning meeting I might add – please take note. First planning meeting since 2016. I hadn’t had one in three years of being on the scheme. Um, I requested a Support Coordinator because I’m struggling with finding services. My disability has been acquired and it’s all new to me. And I was flat out told by my LAC and her manager, who was there at the review meeting in my home, that no. I was just told no. And if a participant requests one because they’re struggling, why are they denied by our partners in our LAC workforce?

Scott McNaughton 59:51

Thanks, thanks for your question too. And, again, it doesn’t sound like the experience that you’ve had over the last little while has been what we would expect. And quite strange, obviously don’t know the ins and outs of the conversation, but support – I think, Sarah correct me here it’s around 40% of participants have support coordination in their plans.

Not everyone needs them of course. A lot of people self-managing don’t need support coordination. And some people are quite comfortable with having either a plan manager and supported by their LAC to help them implement their plan.

But support coordination is there and at different levels for different participants because of the needs that they may have in helping them connect and implement their plans. Some people might only need support coordination for a year or so and then they sort of build their capacity to implement their plans themselves too.

So I’m happy to take your details out of session and follow that up with you if you like. Because it sounds like you know, it’s probably something there that you might need for a period of time and help you connect and get the most out of your plan. And then, you know, we reassess it down the future if it’s working for you. So, and really, that’s the opportunity for support coordination as well. And it doesn’t need to be lifelong for everyone. Some people it will be but some people might need it for short term to get themselves up and running, as I said, so we can follow that up with you out of session.

Kirsten Deane 1:01:17

And Jacqui, we’re happy to help with that, too.

Now, I’m gonna apologise and say, we had, there were so many awesome questions. And I’m so sorry that we can’t get through more of them. But like we, we said, what we’ll try and do is we’ll bundle up all the questions that we haven’t been able to get through, as well as some of the ones that were sent in prior to today. And we will send them just like we did last time, we will send them through to the NDIA. And we’ll try and get the answers up on the NDIS website. So that way, everybody can see the answers, not just the people who were here today.

So I want to finish up by saying lots of thank yous. I want to thank Scott and Sarah very much at this really busy time for making themselves available, and for answering everyone’s questions today. We really appreciate it.

I want to thank the fantastic captioners and our great interpreters Tyson and Imran, for being here with us today.

And most of all, and I mean this, most of all, I want to thank everybody out there, all of our Every Australian Counts supporters who’ve come online today to ask their questions. Thank you. We know, everybody’s got so much on their plate at the moment and we’re really grateful that you made the time to come along and be here today.

So just a reminder, we’ve recorded this. We have to go and Jean’s got to go and do some wizardry in the background to make the captions line up and make it all work and then we will pop it up on the Every Australian Counts website. So you can watch it at your leisure.

Thank you again everybody. And we will look forward to seeing you all next time. Thank you. Bye!

Join the conversation