e-Blast: QDN summary of plan for NDIS “Independent Assessments”

In September 2020, the Federal Minister for the NDIS, The Hon Stuart Robert MP, announced plans to introduce “independent assessments”. We received feedback from members who said they are confused, frustrated, and worried about having assessments and what this will mean for their NDIS plans, their lives and more broadly the NDIS.

We have provided a summary of the information provided by the NDIA with key links to information released.

What is an “independent assessment”?

The NDIA is introducing compulsory assessments for all new and existing NDIS participants.

From February 2021 all new participants will have to have an independent assessment.

From mid-2021 existing NDIS participants will be required to have an independent assessment when they have a plan review.  Tender documents suggest these assessments take as little as 20 minutes and will determine if you are eligible for the NDIS or what support you might get.

How will an “independent assessment” work?

The NDIA will pay an organisation (or organisations) to do the assessments. They will be done by allied health professionals like a psychologist, speech therapist, or occupational therapist using standard tools chosen by the NDIS. A person’s own therapist cannot do the assessments.

There was a small pilot conducted a year ago of “independent assessments”. Many people with disability and their families expressed concern. The first trial was voluntary. It did not test key parts of this new process, including what impact assessments would have on NDIS plans and funding. Limited information has been released about this first trial and a second trial was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Even though there isn’t information from the pilot, the federal government is moving forward with plans to introduce changes to the NDIS Act to make these assessments compulsory for all new and existing NDIS participants.

Where did the idea of “independent assessments” come from and why are they being introduced?

The Federal Government said the goal of introducing “independent assessments” is to remove financial barriers for people seeking access to the NDIS and to create greater consistency in decision-making.

Along with other organisations representing people with disability, QDN has raised these key issues:

  • the financial barrier experienced by people with disability in getting the assessments and evidence they need to get into the scheme.
  • the inconsistencies that have happened with different assessment tools and information provided.

We see these issues as important and that they need to be addressed. At this point in time, we are not clear that the current plan for “independent assessments” will achieve these goals.

This need for equitable access to assessments for an NDIS application was also outlined in the Tune Review of the NDIS, commissioned by the federal government and released in January 2020.

The Tune Review recommended that the NDIS Act 2013 be amended to require people trying to access the NDIS to undergo assessments using NDIA-approved providers. While this sounds like “independent assessments”, there are big differences between what the Tune Review recommended and what the government is implementing. The Tune Review explicitly states:

“NDIA should not implement a closed or deliberatively limited panel of providers to undertake functional capacity assessments.”

QDN sees  that the proposed “independent assessment” method being pursued by the government, not only departs from the Tune Review recommendation, but contradicts it.

What are the key issues that I need to know about regarding proposed “independent assessments”?

QDN members have raised several key concerns with the government’s current plan for “independent assessments”.

At the core of each of the concerns is the fundamental premise that this plan for “independent assessments” is out of step with the core NDIS principles of choice and control, which people with disability, their families and supporters fought so hard to win.

In October, QDN became a signatory to an open letter to the Minister for the NDIS, The Hon Stuart Robert MP, regarding “independent assessments” in the NDIS. This letter was coordinated by Queensland Advocacy Inc and was co-signed by 13 disability organisations. You can read the full letter here: www.qai.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Open-letter-re-Independent-Assessments.pdf

The letter outlined nine areas of major concerns with the government’s plan for “independent assessments”, including:

  1. Assessments will be mandatory, meaning people with disability will not have a choice about undergoing an independent assessment if they want to access or continue to access NDIS support.
  2. Assessments will not be truly “independent” because the assessors will essentially be paid by the NDIA.
  3. Assessments will follow a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, which will not adequately consider people’s unique, individual diagnosis’ and disability support needs.
  4. Many people with disability do not want to have to repeatedly tell their medical history to people they do not know.
  5. A standardised assessment will not be culturally appropriate to adequately meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants and the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community.
  6. A small number of individuals and/or organisations will hold significant power to determine people’s access to the NDIS and their amount of disability support.
  7. Participants will not be able to see their own assessments unless they make a specific request via the NDIS portal.
  8. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has already made a ruling on the use of independent assessments, finding that the opinion of an assessor who had only seen the participant for a matter of hours, could not be relied upon to determine their eligibility for the NDIS.
  9. Participants cannot submit reports already completed by medical professionals instead of undergoing an independent assessment.
  10. Independent assessments will also be mandatory for existing participants entering a “new life stage”, which is not adequately defined and is causing significant anxiety for people with disability who are concerned these reviews will be used to cut their amount of funded support.
  11. The lack of meaningful and constructive consultation with the disability community regarding the rollout of independent assessments is alarming.
  12. The allied health community and entire disability sector has spent time, energy and resources up-skilling and producing resources to assist with report writing so that evidence can be tailored to the needs of the NDIS.

What happens next and what can you do?

QDN, along with other organisations representing people with disability, have called on the federal government to postpone the introduction of “independent assessments” until people with disability are extensively consulted and have their concerns addressed.

However, Minister Robert and the NDIA are still moving forward with the plan to introduce independent assessments from February 2021.

The government is planning to change the NDIS Act to make these assessments compulsory for all new and existing NDIS participants. The legislation may enter Parliament very soon. We do not believe these changes should be introduced to Parliament until the concerns and voices of people with disability are heard.

If you want to take action on this issue – there are two simple things you can do right now.

  1. Complete QDN’s “independent assessments” survey. The survey has just five questions and will help to provide QDN with real-life examples of how this plan will impact our members, which we can raise as concerns and questions directly with government. You can find a link to the survey here: https://bit.ly/3oXCbtg

If you’d prefer to fill in the survey over the phone, call QDN on 1300 363 783 and ask to speak to the policy team about independent assessments.

  1. Every Australian Counts has launched a tool to help people with disability, their families and supporters contact their local Member of Parliament about why they are so concerned about “independent assessments”.

You can find the Every Australian Counts tool here: https://everyaustraliancounts.com.au/take-action-on-ndis-assessments/

The introduction of “independent assessments” would fundamentally change the NDIS, so it’s critical that you have your voice heard on this issue. Now is the time to take action.

Where do I find Links to information released by the NDIA on “independent assessments”?

You can read the NDIA’s summary on “independent assessments”  here: www.ndis.gov.au/participants/independent-assessments

Below is a list of resources developed by the NDIA on “independent assessments”:

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