Australia

Disability discrimination commissioner reveals his NDIS independent assessment trial was ‘unsatisfactory’

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett has revealed he participated in a trial for NDIS independent assessments, but said the experience left him unsatisfied and concerned. 

National Disability Insurance Minister Linda Reynolds has placed the rollout of the contentious reforms on hold in response to widespread opposition from disability advocates. 

Senator Reynolds has said she is waiting for a trial of the process to finish before finalising her review. 

Mr Gauntlett told Senate estimates on Thursday he had participated in the third phase of the trial with “utmost good faith” but described his experience as “unsatisfactory”.  

“Unfortunately in participating in the trial, I found the process unsatisfactory and provided that feedback to the agency,” he told the hearing. 

Facing questions by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, Mr Gauntlett added that he felt the report received through the independent assessment “did not accurately” reflect his support needs. 

“[The report] did not reflect accurately what I had informed a person assessing me of and it needed to be either reviewed or appealed,” he said. 

Under the trial, the outcome of the report does not have an impact on an individual’s support requirements under the NDIS. 

Senator Reynolds has defended the intention of the reforms, but left the door open to changes in the process, in response to community backlash. 

“I’m waiting for the trial to finish and it hasn’t yet concluded,” she told reporters on Thursday.  

“I’ve been working with a range of advocates across a range of disability types to work through how we can hear their concerns and take more of a co-design approach.”

The federal government argues the reforms would see funding distributed more fairly as the NDIS grapples with increasing costs stemming from rising demand for the scheme.

Under the proposed reforms, participants would be assesed by a government-contracted health professional to determine their eligibility for the scheme, and the level of support and funding they receive. 

This compares to the current program where participants provide reports from their own medical specialists to be assessed for the scheme.  

Mr Gauntlett said his independent assessment during the trial had been conducted by a physiotherapist, He suggested the process had failed to appropriately assess his support needs.

He added that his experience had made him concerned whether the present approach complied with articles of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights for Persons with Disability (CRDP).   

“I have concerns whether the present approach to independent assessments undertaken by the National Disability Insurance Agency in this particular trial is compliant with articles of the CRDP,” he told the hearing.  

Mr Gauntlett said this was based on the trial’s current approach that uses a singular assessor and particular tools to assess an individual and does not have appeal and review rights.

His concerns relate to Article 13 of the convention, which requires “access to justice”, and 26-1A, which requires a “multidisciplinary assessment” of individuals’ needs and strength. 

Critics have warned the independent assessment process will undermine participants’ control over the support they receive and have raised concerns over a lack of consultation and clarity over their implementation. 

Mr Gauntlett said the government needed to closely consider whether an appropriate model of independent assessment is being used that reflects “human rights principles”. 

“There is a place for people, I suspect for individuals with complex support needs, to have multidisciplinary assessments for what their requirements are,” he told the hearing.   

“What we can do is have a meaningful discussion where we are respectful of the dignity and rights of individuals ensuring they are treated with respect.” 

More than 450,000 Australians are supported by the $25 billion scheme, which is jointly funded by the federal and state and territory governments. 

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