Conflict of interest is like having two responsibilities pulling you in different directions, which can create ethical dilemmas. Most providers, individuals and organisations do their best to provide supports and services to NDIS participants without having their personal interests impact the participant’s best interests. However, there are circumstances where conflict of interest may be occurring, and you may not even realise it.
Understanding conflict of interest
Conflict of interest arises when an individual or organisation's personal, financial, or professional interests may influence their ability to prioritise the best interests of another party. In the context of NDIS providers, it refers to situations where their personal or financial interests may influence the supports and services offered to NDIS participants.
In the NDIS Code of Conduct Guidance for Service Providers (page 21) the NDIS outlines that:
‘NDIS providers should disclose to the people with disability they support or who are seeking support, any conflicts of interest – potential or real – that may impact on how they deliver supports and services to that person. This would include conflicts of a financial, business, or personal nature, including any financial and/or corporate interest or relationship the NDIS provider may have with other entities, including businesses and organisations, or of a personal nature, including but not limited to cultural, religious, or social relationships.’
Conflicts of interest are quite common, and with the right identification and disclosure are not issues at all. In nearly all cases it is not a case of doing something wrong, but simply arises when an individual or organisation is not completely independent.
The importance of avoiding conflict of interest
Avoiding conflict of interest is crucial to maintaining trust and integrity and ensuring participants receive accurate and impartial support.
According to the NDIS Code of Conduct providers should:
not give, ask for, or accept any inducement or gift that impacts or may impact on the way it provides supports or services under the NDIS, including any referral arrangements with other providers
not allow any financial or commercial interest in an organisation or company providing products, services or supports to people with disability to adversely affect the way in which the NDIS provider engages with people with disability
engage in recruitment practices, such as probity checks and reference checks, to uncover any potential or real conflicts of interest of people that it is considering employing.
It’s important that providers inform the participant of any perceived or actual conflicts of interest.
Examples of conflict of interest
#1 Support Coordinators
If a support coordinator works at an organisation that delivers other NDIS services, they may have a conflict of interest. The nature of a support coordinator’s role means that conflict of interest considerations are more likely, and remains front of mind at the NDIS, from the Tune Review through to the ongoing Own Motion enquiry into Plan Management and Support Coordination, which notes a high-profile example involving supported residential services (SRS):
“In a number of cases, participants who had support coordinators who were associated with the SRS proprietor and providers of their other NDIS supports, found it very difficult to raise concerns that they were not receiving the supports for which they were paying. There was very little transparency in the arrangements, and they found their NDIS funds depleted without receiving adequate supports. They were not supported to look for more suitable options. In some cases, a participant’s plan management supports were also provided by the SRS proprietor or an associated entity, which raised similar difficulties for participants as those experienced when support coordination was provided by the SRS proprietor or an associated entity.” (Page 11).
#2 Plan Nominees acting as a service provider
The NDIS specifies the requirements and expectations of plan nominees quite clearly, including a duty to avoid or manage conflicts of interest, as well as notify the NDIS of any conflicts of interest.
#3 Participant affiliated (employed by, owner, investor, etc) with their service provider
If a participant has an interest in a company that is providing their supports, they may become conflicted as they may be profiting from their own NDIS funding. While we have experienced situations like this, we recommend that this be discussed with the NDIS planner or LAC for full transparency.
#4 Family members employed by the participant
Family members are classed as informal supports and are not funded by the NDIS. Employing family members can have negative impacts such as:
Unintentionally creating an environment where a participant’s wishes in relation to their care arrangements or the delivery of their supports is diminished
There is no or limited respite for the family worker taking on the role of support worker
How to avoid conflict of interest
NDIS providers (registered or non-registered) have a responsibility to uphold ethical standards and protect themselves against conflicts of interest:
#1 Establish ethical guidelines:
Providers should develop clear and comprehensive ethical guidelines that explicitly address conflicts of interest. These guidelines should be shared with all staff, ensuring everyone understands their obligations and the potential consequences of non-compliance.
#2 Implement checks and balances:
Providers must establish internal processes and structures to identify, assess, and manage potential conflicts of interest. This might include regular internal audits, independent review mechanisms, or distinct decision-making processes to minimize the risk of conflicts compromising the quality of support. Depending on the risk or complexity of the type of service that is provided, this could be as rigorous as having separate CRM systems to ensure that information is accessible only to authorised people.
#3 Develop a conflict of interest policy:
Providers should have a conflict of interest policy in place, outlining procedures for disclosing, managing, and resolving conflicts. This policy should encompass considerations such as financial interests, family relationships, and conflicting professional affiliations.
#4 Promote transparency and transparency:
Open and transparent communication with NDIS participants is vital. Providers should proactively disclose any conflicts of interest, ensuring participants have all necessary information to make informed decisions about their support.
If you have a participant who is plan managed with First2Care, you can register your details with our First2Care team for quick and easy payment processing. Read more about First2Care Plan Management here.