The poor old NDIS. It comes in for some stick. A lot of it deserved. A lot of it because it is understaffed and under resourced. Even more of it because it has an IT system that is not fit for purpose. Sadly, a lot of it because many within are just not right for the job.
Recently I wrote a scathing piece about a shocking plan received by a friend off mine. She is deaf with a cochlear implant. She received a paltry $300 for low cost equipment, nothing for community participation by way of communication support, $3000 for assessments, presumably to work out how to spend her $300. A quarter of her plan was allocated to pay a plan manager. She received $100 for her Hearing Services Voucher. It was one of the more bizarre and worthless plans I have seen.
A meeting was called with her LAC to find out what had transpired. The LAC then just laid the blame solely at then feet of the NDIS delegate that had approved the plan. Usually LAC and delegate have a plan alignment meeting (PAM) and discuss what has been recommended by the LAC. In this case it seems both LAC and delegate had no clue. But the LAC washed her hands of it. She laid the blame solely with the delegate.
She advised us to review. Sent the form to be filled in and basically went back to LAC land. Likely some other poor soul became the victim of her ineptitude. I knew that dealing with her was a waste of time. I instructed my friend to send the NDIS a letter appointing me as her advocate.
I set about compiling an official complaint outlining exactly how my friends plan should be structured. Through contacts I garnered who the delegate was, who her team leader was and who the LACs team leader was. I prepared a complaint and I outlined just how this plan should be structured. It was a modest plan that came to around $17 000. It included 120 hours of Aslan interpreting/Captioning for community participation, $1500 in low cost equipment and 10 hours of assessments to identify low cost technology that would benefit my friend. In addition to this we asked for 10 hours of Auslan Tuition to kick start the learning my friends husband and his family so that my friend would be less isolated within family gatherings. The mandatory Hearing Service voucher was also included.
The email went to LAC and her team leader, delegate and her team leader and the NDIS feedback email. I asked for a response within two working days. I heard nothing from the LAC or her team leader, nothing from delegate or her team leader but the feedback line responded on the third day. I was quite impressed because under the legislation they have 21 days to respond. That’s my understanding anyway.
BUT – Even though the email clearly said deaf, don’t call, please email; they called. I called back through the NRS and asked them to please email. They did within the hour. They promised to put in the review for my friend so that she didn’t have to mess about with paperwork. I asked if we could do what is known as an agency initiated review because of the appalling errors in the plan. For example the delegate apparently denied all access to Auslan interpreting or captioning because, “.. participant has a cochlear implant and can hear.”
I have to say the complaints person was brilliant. She tried to get an agency initiated review but couldn’t. She promised me to keep the complaint open and try to get the review completed as soon as possible. Woe and betide, she was as good as her word. Within a week the NDIS Reviews team contacted my friend about the review. BUT – Yes they called.
So anyway my friend gave me the number. I called back through the National Relay Service and said – Can you please email. So they did. They proposed a new plan that was still woefully inadequate. It had only about 30 hours of interpreting. So I emailed the plan structure to them. Within 24 hours all that I has asked for on behalf of my friend was approved. The whole process took about three weeks. I have to say, apart from phoning, the complaints team and the National Review Team were brilliant.
I emailed them back and thanked them for their professionalism. I asked if they could arrange a proper implementation for my friend so she could have her plan activated, understand the portal, how to access it through My Gov, understand how to book service and prepare service agreements. On my friends behalf they contacted the LAC organisation and asked them to arrange the implementation.
The LAC organisation did, and they emailed too. Hallelujah! They arranged an interpreter too. Via Skype because of the social isolation going on. But, sadly the implementation was appalling. My friend wasn’t provided an activation code. No instructions for the portal or My Gov were given. The information about finding or booking services was not provided. Apparently the LAC just read out the plan.
So another complaint letter. I requested the LAC be removed, a new LAC be appointed, the implementation be redone, and properly. I sent this to the complaints people, the National Review Team, the LAC and her team leader. Within 24 hours it seems the complaints team had told the partnership organisation to do the job properly. The LAC was removed and a new LAC was appointed. Thankfully the new LAC knew what they were doing and everything my friend needed was provided. As my friend said to me, “It’s sad it had to happen that way.”
But the important thing is that the whole thing was dealt with quickly and properly. The NDIS quickly realised that the plan was a shocker and set about rectifying things. They did all that they promised and ensured that my friend got a plan that she needed. A plan that could make a difference to her life.
It is certainly true that it should not have happened like this in the first place. Sadly, there is some dross within both LAC partner organisations and the NDIA itself. Many of them should not be in the role and do not understand disability. Many are just lazy, make assumptions and do not use the considerable resources and support within the NDIA to make the right decision. Simple things like consulting subject matter experts and the operational guidelines to ensure a plan that meets needs. Simple things like familiarising oneself with certain disabilities so that one at least knows how the disability may impact. Simple things like empathy and caring will go a long way.
BUT, as this story shows, within the LAC partners and the NDIA are really good people that know what they are doing and do care. There are people that deliver what they promise and do the right thing. I know from working in the system for nearly four years that there are many of these people. Sadly, there are also too many that should not be there. They need to be weeded out. Recruitment needs to be revamped and a deep knowledge of disability needs to be a mandatory requirement for anyone that gets job in the NDIS environment. Lived experience is preferable.
To the people that ensured my friends nightmare with the NDIS ended quickly and that she was provided with plan that could make a difference I say thank you. To the people that made such a mess of my friends plan in the first place, I beg you to get another job – Potentially you are ruining people’s lives!
End note – I received no remuneration for assisting my friend. I did it entirely voluntarily. However, I believe the service that I provided should be properly funded so that participants can get advocacy and support both pre and post plan. Ensuring quality plans will lessen reviews and the investment in such a service will save many hours of work and pain.