A domestic violence prevention group fears the proposed model of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) independent assessments could result in survivors being re-traumatised and placed at “imminent risk of harm”.
In its submission to a parliamentary committee inquiry into independent assessments, Domestic Violence Victoria/Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said it had major concerns about how the contentious assessments could be carried out.
The assessments, which have been put on hold amid a sector-wide backlash, would see participants outsourced to a single contracted assessor they do not know to determine their eligibility for the NDIS, and the level of support they receive.
New NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds has said the assessments are designed to provide people with disability with “true choice and control over a flexible support package to achieve their goals”.
But in its submission to the parliamentary committee, the recently-merged DVV/DVRCV said the outsourcing of assessments to people with potentially little understanding of family violence would cause problems.
“If the assessor does not have an understanding of family violence … it may result in family violence and associated risk factors not being identified and the impact of trauma not being recognised and acknowledged during the assessment process,” the submission said.
“If family violence and risk factors are not identified, it could put a victim-survivor at imminent risk of harm and is likely to lead to an inaccurate assessment and plan that does not consider the specific support and safety needs of a victim-survivor.”
DVV/DVRCV also said an assessor’s potential lack of knowledge about family violence may place someone at more risk of violence if they can’t assess whether a carer or family member is the perpetrator.
“The current independent assessment design allows family members or carers to participate in the assessment process,” it said.
“The presence of the perpetrator during the assessment presents a significant risk to a victim-survivor and causes additional challenges as victim-survivors could mask or downplay their needs in the presence of the perpetrator, or their responses to questions may not be indicative of their support needs [resulting] in reinforcing violent and abusive behaviour.”
Research shows that people with disability, particularly women and girls, experience higher rates of family violence than the general public.
The government and the National Disability Insurance Agency – which runs the NDIS – has repeatedly said independent assessments would make access to the scheme more consistent and transparent.
But critics say the move is a cost-cutting exercise that will make it harder for people to access the NDIS, leave existing participants worse off and force vulnerable people to be assessed by practitioners they don’t know or trust.
There is also concern the model will undermine participants’ choice in and control over the support they receive.
“The right to exercise choice and control over decision-making is critically important for victim-survivors of family violence as violence and abuse perpetrated against them takes away their power and autonomy,” DVV/DVRCV said in its submission.
The group said survivors may also feel hesitant to share details of trauma with a stranger, and the assessment process could be re-traumatising.
“If a victim-survivor does disclose experiences of family violence to an assessor and they do not get an appropriate and safe response, it is likely to deter them from seeking help and safety in future as it may result in them not trusting the ‘system’ and feeling anxious to seek support again.”
DVV/DVRCV is calling for a redesign of the assessment processes to make sure adequate safeguards are in place to allow survivors to “safely engage” with it, and for assessors to complete training in identifying and responding to family violence.
Senator Reynolds has promised to closely review feedback before drafting laws to lock in the assessment rollout.
As of Monday afternoon, the parliamentary committee had uploaded more than 150 different submissions online. Advocates for people with disability from Indigenous and culturally diverse communities have used submissions to voice alarm about the controversial reforms.
On Monday, the committee announced it would be holding public hearings in the coming weeks. Hearings in Melbourne, Perth, Hobart and Geelong have been scheduled to begin from 23 April, with more dates and locations to be confirmed.
Independent assessments were announced last year after a version was recommended in an independent review of the NDIS Act in 2019 – known as the Tune review – and by the Productivity Commission at the scheme’s inception.
However, documents obtained under freedom of information laws earlier this month appeared to show that the government inserted a chapter on introducing independent assessments into the review. Senator Reynolds has defended its independence.
The government has described the assessments as a “consistent, transparent and equitable” way of gauging a person’s capacity that would support fairer decisions about NDIS access.
The NDIA said in February that “tailored training” would be provided to assessors.
Senator Reynolds has been contacted for comment.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. The Men’s Referral Service provides advice for men on domestic violence and can be contacted on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, call 000.