I no longer work in the NDIS environment. I am thankful really. It’s weird, but I am more useful on the outside than in. Everyday I check in on the NDIS Grassroots Pages. The stories horrify me. What you often see is a totally rigid interpretation of the rules. Last year the NDIS, at least in the region I worked, began to crackdown on support coordination. They would only give it to plans that were seen as intensive or super intensive. They would consider it for general and supported plans only if participants were from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Backgrounds and if participants were having housing issues. What this triggered was a series of cuts to Support Coordination that angered many participants.
They were angry and, in most cases, rightly so. It was just a rigid and inflexible interpretation of the rules. It did not consider wether a person or their support people had capacity to set up and manage their plans. It didn’t consider a whole range of socio-economic factors. It rarely considered family size, family issues or anything like that. There were plans that were very complex and borderline intensive but still had support coordination cut. Many families and participants, as a consequence, suffered extreme stress. All in the name of sustainability and rigidity. It was and is disgusting.
It took me back to when I started working in the NDIS field. I was a Senior Local Area Coordinator. When I started it was at the time of the dreaded systems crash. The system crashed regularly after that. It is a dreadful not fit for purpose system. But this crash was the mother of all crashes and took something like three months to fix. Meanwhile there were new NDIA planners and LACs ready to go who who had limited access the system. It led to a dreadful backlog.
What basically happened was the system migrated to a new system. In a perfect world all the information from the old system would come over. It didn’t. What this meant was bills didn’t get paid. Participants didn’t know how much money they had left. Service providers were pushed to the brink of bankruptcy because they had no cash flow and couldn’t pay salaries. Participants didn’t get much needed support. It was a shambles.
We started in July and we didn’t really get into planning until well into September. We were a new roll-out area. The way the NDIS works is that participants that are defined, in other words receiving state Government services, had to be rolled into the NDIS first. Other participants like new applicants had to wait until that was completed before they could have a planning meeting and a subsequent plan.
Not a lot of people know but LACs based in partnership organisations like Feros, Brotherhood of St Laurence, United and so on were really only supposed to do general and supported plans. The NDIA planners were to do intensive and super intensive plans. However, because there was such a backlog it did not happen that way. LACs did all sorts of plans. NDIA planners did all sorts of plans. It was a real mixture.
This brings me back to support coordination and the rigidity of NDIA processes. You see LACs were not allowed to request support coordination. But they were doing intensive plans and probably super intensive plans. Meanwhile NDIA planners were doing supported and general plans that LACs were supposed to be doing.
Here is where it gets really bizarre. You see NDIA planners were told to give all of the participants they assisted support coordination. I know this because a planner in our region told me. What we saw, as an example, is a relatively small plan of say $4000 a year that would have in excess of $3000 for support coordination. I saw one or two plans in the second year of the rollout that had been completed by planners that actually had more support coordination money than money for supports. It was that farcical.
Meanwhile pre 2017 and back in LAC land we, the LACs, were up in arms. Why? Because we were completing complex plans that obviously required support coordination and it was being denied. It took a couple of months before the NDIA backed down and allowed the LACs to put support coordination in plans.
Meanwhile NDIS planners were handing out support coordination like confetti even for simple plans. At the same time LACs had to plead and beg to get the NDIA to change its rigid processes so that they could put support coordination in obviously complex plans. It was farcical, something straight out of Monty Python or Yes Minister.
It didn’t end there. You see the dreaded data transfer that led to the systems crash meant the the NDIA were dreadfully behind with their KPIs. Unsurprising given that many LACs and planners could not do any actual planning until September, three months into the roll-out. The pressure on LACs and planners was immense. The Minister of the time was completely inflexible and insisted, despite the crash, that we all had to meet our KPIs because, and this is my opinion, it was embarrassing the Government.
My own employer dangled carrots under everyones nose. If we met our KPIs they were going to close the office down for Christmas and give everyone a fully paid Christmas break on the house. They drove the poor LACs hard. New LACs learning the system and doing complex plans were expected to submit a plan a day.
A board was introduced where we recorded our submissions. Everyone could see who was submitting a plan a day. One LAC dubbed it the the board of shame because it was obvious which LACs were struggling. He protested loudly that what we were doing was unfair and was leading to substandard plans. I got directed to tell him to toe the line or get out. One LAC messaged me so frightened at the way that our hero was being treated that she said she was frightened to say anything and was going to the Union. I encouraged her to do so.
And you know what? The fellow was absolutely right. The push for numbers to meet the KPIs, despite the circumstances, led to poor quality plans that took the better part of 2017 and some of 2018 to fix up, if at all.
The real tragedy was that the access team in Canberra, so that we would have enough participants to meet the KPI, approved just about everyone. By doing so it meant more plans could be approved.
What was the result of this? Well the NDIS realised that it had many hundreds, probably thousands, of approved participants that actually didn’t meet the access criteria. In some cases they began to change the rules so that participants that previously met access now did not. It fell to us, the LACs, to do all the dirty work and inform the participants that they were no longer eligible.
Come review time many people who were hard off hearing and been approved were now told that they were no longer eligible. To make sure they were not eligible the NDIA changed the rules stating that only people with a hearing loss of 90 decibels or over automatically qualified. If your hearing loss was under 65 decibels you didn’t qualify at all. It fell to us to inform the participants that they no longer met access. They were angry and rightly so. There were others who also suddenly were deemed not disabled enough and had their eligibility questioned or removed.
We then had the tiresome administrative issue of removing support coordination from plans that should never have got it in the first place. On the other hand we had to advocate hard, often unsuccessfully, to have support coordination added to those who should have had it.
The mess was all of the NDIA’s own making. As is always the case, it was the participants that copped the brunt of it!
Have the NDIA learnt from all this? I don’t think so. They continue to make illogical eligibility decisions. They want to remove transport support for all psychosocial disabilities. They banned transport being funded through core funds and then reversed it. And the provision of support coordination remains an unmitigated mess!
These, my friends, are my tales from the NDIS crypt. Sleep well because I am sure there are even more nightmares to follow.