Australia

NDIS independent assessments should not proceed in ‘current form’, advisory body says

The independent advisory body on the National Disability Insurance Scheme says the Morrison government’s controversial plan to introduce independent assessments should not go ahead in its “current form”.

The Independent Advisory Council’s advice, published on Wednesday, says “significant concerns” with the proposal to introduce independent assessments for NDIS participants need to be “meaningfully addressed”.

The advisory body has pushed for key changes to the scheme to ensure it is fairer, safer and more respectful of participants hinging on closer consultation with the disability community.

In response to the advice, the National Disability Insurance Agency has committed to reforming the proposed model for independent assessments to meet the concerns of the council and disability advocates.

The release of the advice comes ahead of a crucial meeting between federal, state and territory officials on Friday, which will consider the independent assessments proposal.

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds intends to seek “in-principle support” from her state and territory counterparts at the meeting, after placing the proposal on hold for further consultation.

The ACT, Queensland and Victoria have already expressed concern about plans to shake up the scheme by introducing the compulsory independent assessments model.

The reforms would see NDIS participants assessed by a government-contracted allied health professional rather than submitting evidence from their own specialists.

Disability advocates have expressed overwhelming opposition to the changes over concerns this will undermine participants’ control over the support they receive.

But the federal government maintains the changes would address inequities in the scheme, meaning participants’ assessments aren’t influenced by their socioeconomic status or where they live.

The federal government also says the reforms are needed to place the NDIS on a “sustainable growth trajectory” to avoid a cost blowout.

The scheme’s Financial Sustainability Report, released on Saturday, estimated the scheme would cost $60 billion a year by 2030. Labor has rejected these forecasts as not credible.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, separate reports have been released on the independent advisory body’s advice, the agency’s draft response and also results of a separate trial of the proposal.

The Independent Advisory Council’s advice states that the scheme requires further co-design “with Council and representatives of Disabled Persons’ Organisations.”

It identified an “erosion of trust” among those in the disability community, indicating they have felt “sidelined” and believe independent assessments had “galvanised existing frustrations into action”.

The council’s advice was based on consultation with people with disability and representative groups for people with a disability.

In response to the report, NDIA chief executive officer Martin Hoffman said the agency would seek to address the concerns of the disability community.

“This feedback will make the approach used in the pilot better,” he said.

In its draft response to the advice, the NDIA said it “fully accepts” that the proposed independent assessment reforms should not proceed in their current form.

It said that the NDIA is proposing to make “substantial changes” and “improvements” to the independent assessment model used in trials.

A list of the proposed preliminary changes include enabling participants to have greater choice of their assessors’ “professional specialty, gender and cultural characteristics” to better tailor the assessment process.

It also suggests harnessing disability organisations to improve the training of assessors and use pre-existing information from a participant’s treating specialist alongside their independent assessment.

The proposed changes also include establishing a clear process for complaints to provide participants more capacity to challenge the outcome of assessments.

The agency has also released the findings of its trial of the proposal, which found 70 per cent of the approximately 900 participants and carers reported their experience was “excellent”, “very good” or “good”.

Around 3,700 people took part in the independent assessment trial.

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