News | 25 November 2020

Is this the end of planning in the NDIS?

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Front covers of two NDIS consultation papers: Planning Policy for Personalised Budgets and Plan Flexibility, and Access and Eligibiliyt Policy with independent assessments. In the background is a WHODAS checklist.

But first things first. Let’s have a look at what was released … and what we think it all means.

So what is happening?

First some welcome news. Tucked away in the papers was the news that the introduction of the new compulsory assessments to the NDIS has now been delayed by about six months.

The new assessment process will now start in the middle of next year for people applying for access to the scheme. And then start at the end of the year for existing NDIS participants.

The NDIA will use this extra time to finally ask people what they think of all this.

To help the “consultation” process, the NDIA and the Department of Social Services have released five papers. There are four consultation reports from the NDIA:

➡️ Assessments and access

➡️ Assessments and planning

➡️ Proposed changes to how the NDIS supports children and young people

➡️ Project report on the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Reset project

And one from the Department of Social Services:

➡️ Improving the National Disability Insurance Scheme: Better Participant Experience and Improved Access and Planning

But an important note of caution about this consultation process.

The NDIA have made it crystal clear that they are NOT consulting about what people think about these new assessments. Or the new planning process. Or the whole kit and caboodle.

This is not a case of the NDIA asking whether this should go ahead – they have made it very clear they are charging ahead. It is all systems go. Full steam ahead. No looking back.

The consultation papers and questions are about some (and not even all) the nuts and bolts of how to go about it. Not if but how.

But before you throw your hands up in the air and say what’s the point … we have some ideas about that. You can check them out at the bottom of this article.

In the meantime, there was a lot of info released. And it is all important. So we are going to take a separate look at each to see what they reveal. So stay tuned for more.

For now, let’s look at the planning paper – because hiding in what looks from the outside like a standard issue government consultation paper is some bombshell news.

The good news

Let’s start with some of the good news. As has already been flagged, this new assessment and planning process will give everyone much greater flexibility in how NDIS funds can be used.

In the future participants will have just two buckets of funding – fixed and flexible. The fixed bucket will contain the kinds of things that you would expect – things like high cost assistive technology or home modifications. Or Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA).

The other bucket will be able to be used completely flexibly. Say goodbye to core and capacity building – hooray. You will be able to determine how best to use the funds in your flexible bucket.

Now … the bad news

You knew there would be a kicker.

The most important thing revealed in the planning paper is something we have suspected all along – that the NDIA intend to completely abandon the current planning process.

What becomes crystal clear as you move through the pages is that this new compulsory assessment will be the only thing that determines your NDIS plan and budget.

Take a look at the diagram on page 9.

Highlighted selection from page 9 of the Planning consultation paper in Figure 1. "Step 3: Participant receives a draft plan, including a draft plan budget. Step 4: Planning conversation about the participant's goals and how their community and mainstream supports and NDIS funds can be used to pursue these and meet their disability-related support needs."

The steps in the new planning process will be – you will have an assessment. The assessor will write a report. That report will then be used to determine your NDIS plan and budget.

In fact you will get a copy of your draft plan and budget – BEFORE you even have your planning meeting.

You will still have a planning meeting – but that planning meeting will focus not on what you need but how to use the funding you have been allocated.

You won’t be having a discussion about what support you need – you will be having a discussion on how to use the already decided funds.

Goals will no longer even come into it. You will be welcome to have a conversation about goals – but goals will have NO impact on your plan or your budget.

And what happens if you have other evidence or reports to be considered as part of the planning process?

Well the short answer is – they won’t.

In fact on page 13 of the report the NDIA makes it clear the very limited circumstances in which they will vary the initial draft budget:

  • If the participant has “extensive or complex support needs”
  • If there are additional “high cost supports that are not accounted for in the independent assessment” – for example Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) or home modifications

Any additional information provided by your service providers or existing therapists can be used to help you work out how to use your budget or what the right mix of supports might be – but they won’t be considered in determining the overall budget.

The paper makes it very clear that the assessment is THE thing that will determine your budget – nothing else.

So it goes without saying that a LOT is riding on that assessment being an accurate picture of you and your circumstances. Particularly when that assessment is done by a complete stranger who met you for the first time that day. And may hang around your house for as little as 20 minutes to watch you make a cup of tea or put the washing on.

And what the paper also makes clear is that you will NOT be able to appeal the results of your assessment. You won’t be able to challenge what is contained in the report.

You will only be able to appeal the plan and the budget that is built from the assessment. And you will do that the way you usually do now – through a review.

What that means in practice is that an assessment that is inaccurate or incorrect is going to follow you around like chewing gum stuck to your shoe – it is going to be really difficult to get rid of.

It also means that the real action in explaining who you are, what your life is like and what you need moves from the planning process to the assessment process.

So instead of a complete stranger from the NDIA or a contracted Local Area Coordinator determining what you need, it will be a complete stranger with an allied health background contracted by the NDIA who will determine what you need. Using a set of questions which were never designed for this purpose.

Which perhaps explains in a nutshell exactly why we are all so worried.

Ok after that bombshell … what else?

The NDIA have been signalling for a while that they want to move to longer plans. Which most people think is a good idea – if your circumstances haven’t really changed much, why should you go through the stress of an annual plan review? Waste of everyone’s time and the constant worry that something might go pear-shaped.

So longer plans – that’s a tick. But again there is a kicker to this. What this paper reveals for the first time is that while the plans may be longer, you won’t get your money in one hit.

It will be dribbled out – perhaps month by month. Or quarter by quarter.

So while the NDIA are giving flexibility with one hand they are taking it away with the other.

We can think of lots of people and lots of circumstances where month by month just won’t work.

And if that is you – then now would be a good time to tell the NDIA why this just won’t work for you.

And finally …

The NDIA are absolutely convinced this process will make things fair and consistent. In fact so convinced they repeat the words “fair” and “consistent” so many times in the report we lost count.

Truth is – we all want things to be fair and consistent. The fact that the NDIS is consistently inconsistent is one of people’s biggest gripes with the scheme.

But … whether this new process will actually make things fairer and more consistent is the $25 billion question. One which is not answered in this paper. In fact after reading this there are more questions than there are answers. Which we are pretty sure was not the intent.

If the NDIA want to put every single NDIS participant through this stressful and onerous process, there has to be some evidence it will actually fix the problem we all want to see fixed. But so far – no evidence. Just assertions that it will.

But fairness and consistency is not the only reason these assessments are being introduced. The other important reason – and in fact what is really driving the rush to introduce them – is scheme sustainability.

Last year the scheme was over budget – for the first time in its history. And would have been even more so if plan utilisation was higher than it currently is. (Plan utilisation is just a fancy way of saying how much of their NDIS budget people actually use – vs how much they are allocated in the first place).

And the papers released today only make passing reference to that. But it certainly hasn’t escaped our notice. Or yours.

So how do you have your say?

Each paper has a series of questions at the back. You can answer one or all of the questions.

And as we said at the beginning of the article, the questions are only about certain aspects of the process.

But tucked away on the last page is the sentence:

“We value your feedback on the following questions. You can respond to all of them or just a few. We welcome any feedback on the policy as it is outlined in this paper”.

So the door is open folks. We reckon you should take the NDIA at their word – and make sure you tell them exactly what you think.

You can make a written submission or upload an audio or video submission.

Or you can tell us. We have opened a page on our website where you can give us your feedback. And we will bundle it all up and share it with the NDIA.

But before we finish we just want to say …

Thank you. A very BIG thank you.

Thank you to everyone who wrote a letter to the Minister. Who sent an email. Who contacted their local MP. And who generously shared their story with us.

The delay, these papers, the consultation process is all because of YOU.

You did this.

There was no consultation planned – and you have made this happen.

But (you knew there would be a but) …

This isn’t over. These changes are not set in concrete. In fact the delay now means we have time. Time to have our say. Time to say what we think will work.

So this is just the first step. Now we HAVE to make sure they listen to what we want – and then act.

So now is not the time to throw our hands in the air. Just the opposite. Now is the time to speak out.

Want to read more?

You can find copies of the papers on the NDIS website:

You can find a copy of the information paper from the Department of Social Services website

We have a number of articles which explain the thinking about these new assessments:

And we have a form you can use to tell the NDIA and our MPs why these changes won’t work for you.

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