Updated: Apr 20
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Act has helped many people with disability access better supports, gain more independence and have more choice and control over their lives. However, a new addition is being made part of the NDIS eligibility and planning process – Independent Assessments. The question is, will this help or hinder people with disability?
What are Independent Assessments?
The NDIA has outlined that Independent Assessments (IAs) are designed to “create a complete picture of how you manage tasks and activities in your everyday life.” Essentially, the NDIA want to focus on capability rather than disability.
The IAs themselves set are to replace the need for organising assessments on an individual level to collect evidence regarding the impact your disability has on your everyday life. The NDIA have stated that the qualified health professionals who will undertake the IAs will be able to “capture some of the key information [the NDIA] needs to create your NDIS Plan and budget”. They have also indicated that IAs will provide better consistency in reports.
Independent Assessments will be progressively rolled out in 2021.
Let’s talk controversy
While it is recognised by the NDIA along with general public, especially those within the disability sector, that the structural design of the NDIS is flawed, the question still remains: are Independent Assessments the answer? Many people in and out of the scheme say – no.
The NDIS have said by bringing in Independent Assessments, which are part of the federal government’s response to the Tune Review, that they will make the “NDIS simpler, more consistent and easier to use for all Australians” as well as saving time and money in outsourcing the assessments and documentation required to be an NDIS participant.
Minister Stuart Robert said that Independent Assessments will be “paid in full by the NDIS”. However, in a recent DSC article it was noted that this may not entirely be the case, as the introduction of IAs don’t necessarily negate all the costs that are required for NDIS assessment and eligibility. It’s true that some costs will be covered but according to DSC, ultimately many people will still need to obtain an official diagnosis, likely from a medical specialist. Not to mention that for some, medical evidence that their disability is permanent will need to be outsourced as well.
Probably one of the biggest concerns people within the disability community have expressed regarding IAs is that the NDIA is taking away the choice and control that has been a focal point of the NDIS Act. And that they are giving a lot of power to NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals. This has left many people questioning if IAs will spark a reduction in plan sizes, make eligibility more difficult and perhaps even take away the eligibility status of a current participant.
The NDIA completed a small Independent Assessment pilot using independent health professionals with experience in disability to undertake functional assessments of the volunteers’ capacity. Reportedly 90 per cent of the volunteer participants were either very satisfied or satisfied by their experience. Official results from the pilot are yet to be released publicly.
The NDIS has outlined some FAQs on their website which may provide some more insight into their proposal of Independent Assessments and any impact that may have on you.
What is the process?
In early 2021, IAs will be required as part of the access process for new participants. And by mid 2021, they will be incorporated in the plan review process*. The NDIA have outlined that the IAs will provide an understanding of your functional capacity, like how you function at home, in the community and the overall impact your disability has on your day-to-day life.
During the IAs, an NDIA-appointed assessor will organise a time with you and any parent or guardian, nominee, family member or support worker you would like to have or need to be present. The IA can be undertaken in a place of your choosing or via video call. And the assessment will be free.
The NDIA have said the assessments will run from between 1-4 hours and can be completed over the course of one day or split across several days. Much like in planning meetings or plan reviews, your assessor will ask questions about your life and your goals. They will also ask about everyday tasks and the impact your disability has. Your assessor use standardised assessment tools, based on age and disability to assist in the IA.
When the IA is complete, the results will be shared with the NDIA and your planner or Local Area Coordinator (LAC), who will then share those results with you during your planning meeting.
*Following the introduction of IAs, the plan review process will also undergo a change. Rather than a review every 1-2 years, it will move towards life stages. i.e. finishing school or moving out of home etc.
Accessors – who are they?
The NDIA have conducted a process called an ‘open tender’ which is a formal process for sourcing organisations to provide IAs. At this stage, the NDIA have not announced which organisations will be used for the Independent Assessments. However, they have said that the assessors are not employees of the NDIA but are qualified healthcare professionals with skills in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech pathology, psychology, rehabilitation counselling, and social work.
Although participants will no longer be able to use their regular healthcare professional for assessments, they can request to be referred to someone close to their home or work.
What if you disagree with the outcome?
If you’re unhappy with the outcome of the Independent Assessment, you can request an internal review of the decision. You may also want to seek some help and guidance from a disability advocate if you are not comfortable advocating for yourself or if you would like some extra support.
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