News | 20 April 2020

NDIS and the Coronavirus – what’s changed and what still needs changing? An interview with NDIA CEO

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Screenshots from the Zoom interview showing EAC's Kirsten Deane listening at the top, and NDIA CEO Martin Hoffman speaking below.

Late last week we had the chance to interview the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency Martin Hoffman.

We put the call out to everyone in the EAC community to see what you most wanted to ask the guy in charge of the NDIS – and we were flooded with questions.

So many that we could not possibly ask them all.

But we did manage to cover the big questions you have been asking us about changes to the NDIS as a result of the Coronavirus. Or just as important what changes haven’t been made – and what still needs to be done.

So what did Mr Hoffman have to say?


💻 Smart devices and iPads – can we or can’t we?

There’s been plenty of confusion about the whole iPad thing. First Scott McNaughton in our Zoom forum said we could. Yay! Then the info on the NDIS website confirmed what he said. All good.

And then …

The statement on the NDIS website changed three times in two days. We were reassured that the policy wasn’t changing – they just wanted the info to be clearer. And then a “stay tuned” message appeared.

Martin admitted that they were still working on the policy to make sure the do and don’ts were clear – and that info would be up on the NDIS website this week.

So for everyone who is still wondering what is and isn’t allowed the answer is – if you don’t already have one and you need it for your disability support then the answer is generally yes. But the fine print of exactly what is and what isn’t allowed – well you will have to stay tuned.

Given that we are all living day-to-day at the moment, that’s a pretty frustrating answer.


💵 Price increases and cancellation policies

We have been contacted by so many people frustrated by the 10 per cent increase to some NDIS prices. Peeps are frustrated because plans have NOT been increased to cover this amount.

People are also wondering why the NDIA changed the cancellation policy. (In case you missed it providers can now charge 100 per cent the cost of a service if a participant cancels a service up to 10 days in advance – instead of the usual two days)

Martin says both of these changes have been introduced to try and make sure providers can keep their doors open during this crisis. And that they are definitely temporary – both will be reviewed as we go along and removed when this is all over.

But for people who have their plans very carefully budgeted, these two changes have a BIG impact. It means you need to ask for a review at an already stressful time. And that’s a stress no one needs.


☎️ Batphone for coronavirus issues

Speaking of reviews, that brings us to the Batphone. Martin reminded everyone that the NDIA has set up special teams to deal with issues caused by the Coronavirus. Call the NDIS call centre (1800 800 110), then dial 5 and you should be able to speak to someone in one of these special teams.

Martin says so far the numbers of people calling have been very low.

So either everyone is OK – or not enough people know to call the call centre and dial 5. Or people gave up on the call centre ages ago because they could never get a straight answer. We think it might be the last two.

So the message is – if you need changes, don’t wait. Hit the phone and dial 5.


📞 Speaking of phone calls

Martin also confirmed that the NDIA have started calling NDIS participants to check in and make sure everything is OK. They are starting with 62,000 people who are considered at high risk – either because of their disability or because of their circumstances. They have only just started but we have already heard of people getting calls. So this may just be the time to answer that “No Caller ID” phone call.


And finally …

Martin confirmed the NDIA is not planning to change its policy on the employment of family members. So the answer is still no – even in this pandemic you cannot use your NDIS funds to pay family members. It will however be approved in “exceptional circumstances”. And that has already happened in a small number of cases.


To all those people who sent in a question, we are so sorry we did not get a chance to ask them all. But like the Zoom forum with Scott McNaughton we are bundling them all up and sending them through to the NDIA.


And stay tuned because we have more planned.


For more information you can check out these links:

EAC – NDIS and Coronavirus FAQs

NDIS – Coronavirus information for participants

EAC (April 14) – All the big announcements from our online forum with the NDIA

EAC (April 27) – Smart devices, tablets, iPads – the NDIA get their act together (finally)




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Kirsten Deane 0:01
Well, thank you very much, Martin, for agreeing to talk to us today we know you’re incredibly busy and so we’re really, really grateful that you’ve taken the time to answer questions here today.

Martin Hoffman 0:12
No, of course, it’s great to be with you again, at least televisually. It’s a really important part of the role to try and stay engaged and communicating in both directions with the participants of the scheme, so delighted to do it.

Kirsten Deane 0:28
Thank you. Well, when we went out to the Every Australian Counts community and said that we were talking to you today and what questions would you like would people like us to ask you, we got flooded with questions. We literally got hundreds of questions so many more than we could have time to deal with today. So we’ve tried to pick the questions that were most common that were most representative, the things that asked us, people asked us to ask you.

So I’m going to start first, with probably the most common question that we’ve been asked in the last little while. And the question that I’ve got comes from both Jade and Kylie. And they have both asked, “What exactly are the new guidelines for iPads and laptops? So we can access therapy and support? There’s been a lot of confusion.”

Martin Hoffman 1:19
Yeah, no, thanks for that. And it is an important question to ask. And there has been some confusion and that was our fault. And I’m always upfront about saying that we got a little bit ahead of ourselves at the end of last week. And we’re working furiously to address that now.

So right now the position is as it’s always been. We know funding is for disability related needs. laptops and iPads, other tech are generally seen as everyday things that are used broadly by all people. However, we do absolutely recognize that Where we’ve got this big change in the way the whole of society works, and much therapy and much social engagement is being rapidly transformed. And we’re seeing some great stories by providers are changing in and innovating in the way services are provided. We do recognize the need to think again about the way this works. Now, of course, many people have devices. And of course, we’re seeing programs that the states and state education departments are rolling out for devices as well. And so we do need to think about how this works together with those programs. And works in an equitable way. Um, let me just say, we’ve been working through this literally every day since Easter. And we’re very close. And I would expect next week to be able to say something here.

Kirsten Deane 2:57
Okay, that’s great. Thanks, Martin.

This next question comes from Nigel. And Nigel says, “Why haven’t you increased plans to cover the new 10% price increase? This comes on top of not increasing plans to cover the TTP loading on prices. I have estimated that I am now down about five hours per week in core support because of this price increase. Now I will have to seek a review and I’ve just finished one, we need a more streamlined approach.”

Martin Hoffman 3:31
Hmm. So obviously in Nigel’s particular circumstances. I don’t know the details of his plan. And I would – if her personally but it would sound like he must be very close to his total budget spend if in order to accommodate this he needs to drop hours. And that is not the intent. And we do have a strict new streamlined approach for COVID-19 related plan adjustments. Call the call center, press 5, there’s a dedicated team making adjustments for just this sort of circumstance.

But the general situation is this that on average, the great majority of plans run at a utilisation rate well below 100%. So there is the capacity to cover this temporary, we hope and intend temporary 10% on certain line items for six months. And where there is not in what should be a very small number of cases and you know, maybe Nigel is one of them. But in this very small number of cases, we do have the streamlined approach to get the plan amended and topped up. But for the majority of people that won’t be the case because utilization rates are in the 60 and 70%. And there’s capacity there.

Kirsten Deane 5:02
Okay, that’s great. Thanks. Thanks, Martin. Um, the next question that we’ve got is from Michelle. And Michelle asks, “Why have you changed the cancellation policy, we now have to give 10 days notice to cancel a service. This seems excessive. It’s not like we can plan being sick.”

Martin Hoffman 5:24
No, and again, this is a really tricky one. And I really respect Michelle’s position there. It’s strange because I get criticized as well from providers who say, “You haven’t changed the cancellation policy enough.” And “we should require a month’s notice.” Or “we should be able to keep charging, regardless of cancellation or not for the whole of the COVID-19, six month period, etc.” So sort of taking it from both sides in that in that respect. We quite genuinely were trying to seek a balance but where we were expecting to see an increased number of cancellations for across the board, whether the person was sick or just was practising physical distancing and not wanting to attend, we just needed to give a little bit more time for the providers to adjust to that fact. And hence the change to 10 days. This is one of the things that we’ve done. For a three and six month period, subject to review, and subject to the cancellation policy. They’re subject to the COVID situation in general, so it’s not intended to be a permanent change in arrangements.

Kirsten Deane 6:49
Okay, great. Thank you. All right. Our next question comes from Anne. And lots of people asked this question, but we just picked the one from Anne. “When will people will be able to move their NDIS funds around? For example, when will we be able to move funds from core into capacity building? Why can’t we just move funds between categories?”

Martin Hoffman 7:14
Yeah, and certainly, it is the intention of the agency and I’ve spoken about this with you and others before, to move in the direction of greater flexibility, greater treating of the funding package or funding plan as a total.

There’s a range of things we’ve got to do with that including education and support and controls, etc. to put that sort of in place.

Right now, we do have that flexibility we’ve seen for support coordination, the ability to use that between core and capacity building. For the great majority of cases, there is flexibility within the core components and the different line items there. And again, we encourage people to use the 1800 number, press 5 for the COVID special teams to make that streamline sort of plan and plan adjustments to, to move money around and use it in different ways, including you know through that streamlined approach between capacity and core as Anne was asking.

Kirsten Deane 8:30
Okay, so the message is – if you want to move money around call the call center.

Martin Hoffman 8:37
Exactly. And you know, we’ve had that we’ve had that [telephone] line there and we’ve been trying to promote it. And this session is part of that and in all outcomes, etc. I think it’s a good thing, but we haven’t had that many calls to it. So I think that means that sort of people are coping or maybe it was just the people We’re sort of working out what they needed to do in this new world and sort of thinking it through and now they’ll be ready to start thinking about how to best use their plan at this time, and that’s what we want people to be able to do.

Kirsten Deane 9:15
Okay, that’s great. Thanks. Um, this next question we got asked by a lot of people and we chose two questions from Contessa and from Dawn and we’ve kind of smooshed them together and combined them. So the question is, “How much support and personal care is it reasonable for the NDIS to expect families to provide? How many hours of work is considered reasonable? Why is the term ‘parental responsibility’ so ambiguous? It seems to vary from planner to planner to LAC to LAC. What we do goes way beyond ordinary parental responsibility.”

Martin Hoffman 10:00
And this is a really important and, and difficult question. And let me just start by just acknowledging my respect, admiration for so many parents, so many families and what they do with children with disability disabilities. And I absolutely know that people go well above and beyond what another family might do. Absolutely. And so, and nothing that I want to do or the agency wants to do, in any way sort of either on one hand disrespect that or on the other hand, sort of take it for granted or take advantage of it.

The Act is clear in one sense in that it absolutely says that when it comes to funded supports and the consideration of what is reasonable and necessary. I must SEO and then delegated for the organisation, take into account, what is reasonable to expect families, carers informal networks and the community generally to provide.

And there’s that word ‘reasonable’. And the question that Contessa and the other person asks is, “well what is reasonable?” And of course, the only answer is – it depends on the circumstances.

And that’s one of the great tensions that’s at the heart of the NDIS scheme, which is, on the one hand, we don’t want a black letter set of rules and laws that says, “Well…” you look it up and it says, “This is what you get. Full stop. That’s what the law says no more, no, no less.” The whole scheme was trying to be about and it’s right up front in the Act, individualised situation taking into account goals and objectives of the person, taking into account their particular circumstances, and trying to be reasonable in those circumstances. And I absolutely acknowledge that that is hard. Because it’s about individualisation at mass scale all the way across the country.

So I’m quite sure that the questioners are right, that there is difference between planners and difference between LACs. Some of that is because the people are different. The situation is different and what is reasonable in those circumstances for one family and one parent will be different from another parent. And that’s why we get a large part of the of the variation that we see on these sorts of matters.

So there isn’t a simple answer to this question at all. I would say one place we start with is well, you know, what does a parent of a child without disability reasonably do? And, you know, responsibility for transport for your children rests with families, rests with parents in large degree. And so that translates across to a child with disability and the expectations on transport with their parents, just as it does for parents of children without disability.

So, we start from that place of what do parents generally do for children, regardless of whether they do or don’t have a disability, and work from there in the circumstances. And then the capability of the parents and the wider family and the wider community has to come into it as well. So I want to keep going on and on because it’s difficult to give a precise answer, but we’re very aware of it. We do want to, in general, try and improve not just in this question, but in all these areas of reasonableness and decision making. Try and have more – and I’ve spoken about this before including with you and others – we do think we can do a better job at having more public guidelines, examples, case studies, as to how things should be decided. People might not like what those guidelines say in all cases, of course, but at least they will be there as an indication of what should be expected. Um, and that’s really all I can say on that.

I just want to come back again and just emphasise, you know, my complete personal respect and admiration for what parents and families do in the situation of a child with disability.

Kirsten Deane 14:58
And that it’s even more difficult right at this particular time, which as I’m sure why, you know, all of the people who sent us this question wanted it brought up.

Martin Hoffman 15:09
Correct, yeah.

Kirsten Deane 15:11
Um, so the next question that we have is from Michelle and Michelle asks, “One recent announcement said that the NDIS is contacting around 62,000 high risk participants to make sure they’re getting the supports they need during this crisis. I’m in that high risk group, and I haven’t had any contact with anyone. What is being done for those who are at high risk of COVID-19?”

Martin Hoffman 15:40
Sure, so um, first thing I’d say is that if any participant or their family is concerned about exposure to Coronavirus, then they absolutely need to be calling the Department of Health line 1800 020 080 or the National Relay Service if I need to use that 1300, 555 727.

Um, what we’re doing in the Agency, in addition is – as well as our own call center number and the dial 5 for the COVID-19 hotline and the special teams there – is as well as that sort of being better at receiving we’re trying to be proactive as well.

So we have started a program of direct contact calls to what we’ll get to about 60 odd thousand people based on the criteria of the high risk, nature of the disability, what supports they’re receiving, their health status, their accommodation status – factors like that. So we started to make those calls in the last week, we’re ramping up the numbers. We hope to get in the next week or so to about 2000 calls per day. And so far, they’ve been going very well and people have been very grateful just just for the call and the contact in itself and there is a big value just in that checking in, you know – we’re here, hello, etc.

But we can talk about plan issues. And so the need for any light touch adjustments as we’ve spoken about before. Making sure things like they’ve got their Woolworths code or their grocery code – I shouldn’t name one grocery store – but you know, the grocery code and they now have apps that’s working if they’re, if they’re after that.

And, but I would just urge if you if you need contact, obviously, don’t wait for us to get through our list, please just call the contact center. You know, at the moment we’re handling the call volumes really well. We’ve got the dedicated teams there. The numbers have not been huge to date. So you will get through and it seems they’re keen to try to and assist.

Kirsten Deane 18:00
Great, thank you. All right, the next question that we’ve got is for from Emma. And Emma asks “For people who’ve had to reduce support hours because of the Coronavirus, can we be reassured that future plans won’t be cut because funds weren’t used?”

Martin Hoffman 18:20
So yes, Emma can definitely be reassured that future plans won’t be cut because funds were unspent for whatever reason – but particularly for the impacts of COVID-19 and quite rational and reasonable decisions or necessary decisions that a participant may have made in terms of use of plan.

Plans will be adjusted based on the changes of circumstances, changes of need, changes in the nature and extent of disability etc, they’re not made on the basis of spent or unspent funds in the prior plan. And that’s absolutely the case for the COVID-19 situation.

Kirsten Deane 19:06
All right. Well, that will be good because we got that question from a lot of people so that – it’s not just for Emma but for lots of people.

And we’re going to give the last question to Shirley. And Shirley asks, “Why does the information on the NDIS Coronavirus pages give a flat out no to employing family members when the NDIS Operational Guidelines allow it under exceptional circumstances. Could you set up a hotline so these requests could be dealt with urgently?”

Martin Hoffman 19:40
So as I’ve said, we do have a hotline.

But I do have to say that, yes, in exceptional circumstances, that is allowed for. But that is really talking about situation where it’s advice – on the advice of health professionals where there is just no other option at all available for the safety of the participant. We have agreed in a very small number of cases for a family member to receive paid daily care supports.

But that is not the general policy even in the COVID-19 situation. And so that’s not really a factor that goes into the exceptional circumstances consideration. We do believe that it is important, as I referred to earlier in the questions under the Act, to take into account for very real responsibility, and I’m not disparaging those taking advantage of those – but just the real responsibilities that do exist in our society for parents and family members for, for children and other family members.

Kirsten Deane 20:53
Well, as I said, that was the last question from Shirley.

We’re incredibly grateful, Martin that you took the time to talk with us here today and answer questions from people who are in the Every Australian Counts community. You can probably imagine there’s a lot of anxiety and stress and fear in the community, and it’s great that you took the time to answer people’s questions and help people get through that. So we’re really grateful. Thank, you

Martin Hoffman 21:18
No, it’s always a pleasure and it’s easy to do, particularly, you know, just on Zoom, etc. So I’m very happy to do it again in future. I hope my answers have been sort of helpful and positive and straightforward as to where things are and are not.

And you’re right, there is you know, uncertainty, anxiety, fear in the whole community, obviously, in the NDIS community, but in the whole community.

But we should be reassured that Australia is doing very, very well and certainly when it comes to concerns about health care, you know, we are in a strong position now where the number of people who are in intensive care is numbered in the, in the 10s. And the number of intensive care beds we have is numbered in the thousands. So, you know, we’re in good shape. And people with disability who might be fearful of that situation should be reassured by that situation that it is being managed well, you know, the health system is working incredibly hard and were supporting in our small way to ensure to move people out of hospital, who have a disability might have been there for a while and find alternate accommodation so that hospital beds can be freed up. That’s just one example of the work that’s being done across the board to prepare our health system. So to the extent that that reassures people, they should take away that the health system is in good shape to, at this stage to cope with what might come and we hope it doesn’t, of course. But what might come including, and especially for people with disability.

Kirsten Deane 23:06
Mmm. Yeah. And certainly the people that I talk to they’re all doing their bit by staying home.

Martin Hoffman 23:11

Kirsten Deane 23:12
So. Yeah. So again, we’re grateful that you made the time to be here. Thank you.

Martin Hoffman 23:17
Ok. We’ll speak soon. Bye.

Kirsten Deane 23:19
Thank you.

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