NDIS News & Analysis
COVID-19 Resources and Policy for People with Disability and Providers
Last updated: 30/4/20
Many people with disability, families and service providers are understandably very concerned about the outbreak of COVID-19. Some people with disability are more at risk of developing a serious infection. Moreover, many people are worried about being able to access essential disability and medical services.
There is some help out there. We have put together a list of resources that might assist the people you support. But first, two very important notices:
This article does not provide medical advice. If you are concerned about your health, or the health of somebody you support, please seek medical attention or contact the Australian Government’s National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. If the situation is an emergency or you are struggling to breathe, please call 000.
All of this information is correct at the time of writing, but the nature of a public health crisis is that it is a fast-changing environment. We have included the links to the sources in each section. We strongly recommend following those links for the most up to date information.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Click here to see the government’s advice on who is most at risk.
There are two distinct groups of people we must be aware of: those who are most at risk of coming in contact with the virus and those who are most at risk of developing a serious infection.
The list of people at risk of coming in contact with the virus is likely to grow significantly. But as it currently stands, people most at risk of coming in contact with the virus are:
People who have been overseas
People who have been in contact someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID- 19
People in correctional and detention facilities
People in group residential facilities
The list of people who are most at risk of developing a serious infection less likely to change. Many people with disability will fall into this group. It includes:
people 65 and older with chronic medical conditions
people over 70
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50 with one or more chronic illness
people with compromised immune systems
The Department of Social Services (DSS) has set up a Disability Information Helpline to provide information for people with disability about the coronavirus pandemic. You can reach the helpline on: 1800 643 787. If you are deaf or have a hearing impairment you can call the National Relay Service on 133 677.
The helpline is available 8am-8pm (AEST) Monday- Friday and 9am- 7 pm (AEST) Saturday- Sunday. It is not available on public holidays.
They are advising that people can call the helpline if:
their support worker has not turned up.
their provider has stopped providing services
they are having trouble getting essential supplies like food or medication
they are feeling very upset or worried
If in doubt, call!
An Australian government website has also been developed to provide coronavirus information
A 10% COVID-19 loading will be added to price limits for certain supports for up to six months:
Assistance with Daily Life (excluding Supported Independent Living)
Assistance with Social and Community Participation
Improved Daily Living
Improved Health and Wellbeing (not including personal training)
Providers can also continue to claim for the increased use of cleaning and personal protective equipment associated with COVID-19.
More details can be found in the up to date price guide.
Keep in mind though, that participant's plans are not being indexed to accommodate these changes.
URGENT NDIS PLAN REVIEWS
The NDIA is advising special teams of planners are available to help make urgent changes to plans. Call: 1800 800 110. Normal hotline open hours apply: 8am-8pm (local time) Monday- Friday.
They are also saying that if a person’s Core funding is low, then they can move some funding from Capacity Building to Core.
There is also a process in place for urgent Assistive Technology repairs, even when there is not funding in the plan.
NDIS PLANNING MEETINGS
The NDIA is saying that on the day a plan is due to expire, it will be automatically be extended by 365 days (replacing the previous 28 day rule).
If a participant wishes to extend for 24 months, they can request this at the end of their plan and if people require more funds now to cover their critical needs through this time, they should request an unscheduled plan review.
For people who need to review their current plan or are heading into their first planning meeting, the NDIA is planning to do all phone meetings over the phone where possible.
SUPPORT FOR NDIS PROVIDERS
Read more here.
The NDIA has announced that registered providers who received a payment in February 2020, plus at least one payment in December 2019 or January 2020, will be eligible for a one-off advanced payment to address cash flow issues. Plan managers, unregistered providers and providers who would have received less than $50 will not be eligible.
The payment is calculated as one third of the providers cumulative claims from the past three months.
But keep in mind, that the advance payment does create an interest-free debt to the NDIA. You can opt out by sending an email to [email protected] by 5.00PM AEDT 27 March 2020 with the word “NO” or “OPT OUT” in the subject line.
Providers do not need to do anything to receive this payment. The NDIA will contact you. But if you haven’t heard from them you can email [email protected].
GUARANTEEING DISABILITY SERVICES
People who are not able to find a provider to deliver an essential service should contact the NDIA on 1800 800 110. They are saying that they will work with state and territory governments to sources an alternative provider.
The NDIA will also be reaching out to participants who are considered high risk or have complex support needs.
At the time of writing there is very little information on guaranteeing the supply of disability services. When information does come out, it should be found here. The NDIA does promise they are in conversations with Services Australia and others to make this happen.
Providers are being encouraged to continue to deliver essential supports. Providers are also being reminded about their obligations under the terms of their registration and the Code of Conduct, including to provide continuity of services.
However, obviously, there will be times when the safest thing to do will be to not provide a support, particularly if there is significant risk to the participant. So hopefully we will see more information about how to manage these conflicting priorities in the near future.
The NDIA will be reaching out to "targeted higher risk NDIS participants" to ensure these people continue to receive the essential disability related supports they need.
SUPPORT COORDINATION IN CORE!
A new line item for Support Coordination has been added to Core (read more). This will allow participants without Support Coordination funding (or who have used all of theirs up) to access the service through their Core budget. These are temporary line items that will only be in place for 6 months.
The Support Coordinator does not need to be registered to provide Core services. But people who are Agency managed will still need to use a registered provider. The new line items extend across 3 categories - Level 1: Support Connection, Level 2: Coordination Of Support, and Level 3: Specialist Support Coordination.
ACCESS TO PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
The Department of Health will be triaging requests. Providers will need to demonstrate:
They have not been able to source masks on the open market
Existing stocks have been depleted
Who will be using the masks
How masks will be prioritised and distributed to minimise transmission
How previous stockpile supplies (if applicable) have been used efficiently and effectively.
Requests will be prioritised where:
the participant has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19
safe care cannot be provided without PPE; or
where there is a clinical need.
RSEA Safety has developed a catalogue of PPE for NDIS Participants only.
The NDIA has added new line items to the Price Guide that address assistive technology. These are in place until 30 September, with a review by the end of June:
COVID-19 Low Cost AT to support Capacity Building support delivery: This line item is to allow participants without access to a smart device to purchase one to the value of $750 to maintain their disability supports. They will need to provide the NDIA with written advice from their provider that the device is required and it will need to be to the lowest specification possible to maintain the support. Unlike other low cost assistive technology line items, which are purchased from the Consumables budget, this item comes under Improved Daily Living.
2 new assistive technology rental line items to meet immediate (ie. 30 day) needs for people leaving hospital.
Unsurprisingly, the Quality and Safeguards Commission is saying that workers who have just returned from overseas, been in contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness should not have contact with NDIS participants. But you probably would have figured that out by yourself. Read more here.
The two biggest questions on our minds at the moment are:
How will the government guarantee that people with disability can access disability supports as the number of cases in the community grows? We can expect that a significant percentage of the disability workforce will be unable to work at some point.
How can we guarantee the delivery of essential services to people with disability who are self-isolating or with confirmed cases of COVID-19?
I will cry ACTUAL TEARS of relief when these questions are answered.
In aged care, the government has agreed to make a temporary workforce available to address shortages. In cases of infection, aged care providers can access additional stuff at no extra cost. Read more here.
On 21 March, NDIS Minister Robert announced that there would be changes to existing cancellation rules to allow providers to claim for 100% of a cancelled support. It was also noted that the definition of “short term cancellation” has been broadened and participant’s now need to give 10 business days notice. Read more here.
FILLING SUPPORT GAPS
Many people in the community are looking for ways to support each other through this difficult period. People are signing up on the website Gather My Crew to volunteer their services to people in need. If people with a disability have a support gap that they cannot fill, they should consider looking for support on this website or creating a profile to let their informal supporters and community know exactly how they can help.
The NDIA is also encouraging people and providers to fill support gaps using disability supports match platforms.
For updates, click here.
Many services, including day programs, jobs, regular activities and therapies, will be cancelled as a result of COVID-19. This might mean that residents of group homes might be spending more time at home than the SIL provider quoted for. In these instances, the NDIA is providing the following advice to SIL providers:
SIL quotes include irregular hours for intermittent occurrence of 1-3 days. These can be used for disruption in routine caused by the coronavirus.
If the SIL provider has used all their irregular hours from the quote or if the change in routine is lasting longer than 3 days, they should create a service booking for Community Participation for the resident’s Core budget. This will require the provider to be registered for Community Participation.
There are also new line items for SIL providers in case of a COVID-19 diagnosis including a one-off professional deep cleaning fee of $300 and a $1,200 per day allowance to cover additional costs like staffing and PPE.
ACCESSING HEALTH SERVICES
If you are concerned about your health, or the health of somebody you support, please seek medical attention or contact the Australian Government’s National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. If the situation is an emergency or you are struggling to breathe, please call 000.
Telehealth is now available to the whole population. For more information, click here. Concession card holders will be bulk billed.
People can now access Medicare rebated telehealth sessions with “GP services and some consultation services provided by other medical specialists, nurse practitioners, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, and after-hours consultations.”
If you are going to go to the doctor’s clinic, call them in advance and let them know about your travel history, symptoms or if you have come in contact with potential cases.
The Quality and Safeguards Commission has also reminded providers about the importance of supporting people to get their flu shots.
Testing criteria varies between the states and territories, but it is important to know that doctors can use their discretion when ordering tests. So if you think you need a test but to not meet the criteria, talk to your doctor.
The Quality and Safeguards Commission has released this fact sheet to guide providers through behaviour supports and restrictive practices during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many people with disability are very worried about being able to access essential food supplies.
The NDIS has arranged priority delivery for NDIS participants. You can read more about it here. Participants should be contacted with a unique access code. People who do not have should call the Contact Centre (1800 800 110). Priority delivery is available at the following stores:
For many of these stores the person will need to create an online account before they can get a delivery. Some people may need support through this process.
The NDIS has confirmed delivery fees may be claimable if a people who could not go to the supermarket because of their disability before COVID-19.
For people with a disability who are not NDIS Participants, there are also some options:
People can call DSS’s Disability Information Hotline if they are unable to get essential supplies like groceries and medication: 1800 643 787.
Woolworths has priority delivery times for people who are elderly, have a disability, have a compromised immune system or are required to self-isolate. The form can be found here. They are saying it might take up to 48 hours to assess the requests. But they are not necessarily notifying people when they have been approved for priority delivery. So people should log in to their Woolworths account regularly to check if they have been granted access to new times. Woolworths is still accepting deliveries from all customers. Deliveries can be left at the door.
Woolworths has also rolled out a “basics box” for people unable to go to the store. Currently it is only available in Vic, NSW and ACT.
Coles is rolling out a service to delivery groceries to people who cannot go to the shops. Coles has also rolled out a priority delivery services for people with a disability, people who are elderly or people required to self isolate. You can apply on their website.
There are also many independent grocery stores and markets that have started delivering food.
Many people are looking for ways to volunteer and support each other through this crisis. So people with disability should consider asking their friends, families and neighbours to collect groceries for them. They will probably jump at the opportunity to feel useful.
The Victorian Government has announced that emergency relief packages will be provided to people who are self-isolating and do not have support networks that can provide food and essential supplies. People can access the packages by contacting the Victoria Coronavirus Hotline: 1800 675 398 or visit: dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus.
The Queensland Government has also organised a service to get food and medication to people in quarantine who do not have friends and family able to get supplies to them. To access the supplies, contact Community Recovery Hotline on 1800 173 349.
If all these measures fail, people can contact Foodbank or Ask Izzy to find out which charities are delivering in their area. But as you can imagine, many of these services are overwhelmed at the moment. So it is best to try other options first.
The current advice is that people should have two weeks’ worth of food supplies in their homes.
MEDICATION AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Pharmacists are temporarily able to dispense an ongoing supply of medications without a prescription. The person needs to have been previously prescribed the medication, and the pharmacist convinced there is an an urgent need.
People can call DSS’s Disability Information Hotline if they are unable to get essential supplies like groceries and medication: 1800 643 787.
People are being advised to have 1 months’ supply of medications on them. But it is important to note that there is no need to panic about medical shortage. The Department of Health has not received any notifications about medicine shortages (click here for up to date information).
Many pharmacies will also delivery medications.The government has begun a medication home delivery program. People need to talk to their pharmacist to access it. If that fails, there’s an app that might be able to help.
The government is fast-tracking the implementation of its e-Prescribing program. It should be available to 80% of general practices over the next 8 weeks. This will allow people to get scripts without needing to go to the doctor’s surgery. Read more here.
From the 19th March, the government has put limits on the purchase of medication. They stress that this is due to the increased demand caused by stockpiling, not by medication shortages. Some prescription medications are limited to one month supply, and some over the counter medications are limited to one unit per purchase. Pharmacists are also required to confirm that people requesting inhalers have an appropriate diagnosis. You can find find information on the medication limits here.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR INDIVIDUALS
On March 22nd, the Australian government announced a time-limited coronavirus income supplement payment of $550 per fortnight. If you are already receiving one of these eligible payments, you do not need to do anything. The payment will be added automatically and set up almost immediately. You can read more about it here. To be eligible, a person needs to receive the:
Jobseeker Payment (or payments transitioning into the JobSeeker Payment; including Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Sickness Allowance and Wife Pension)
Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy
Parenting Payment (Partnered and Single)
Farm Household Allowance
Special Benefit recipients
We were disappointed to see that DSP and carers payments are not on the list.
They are also temporarily expanding eligibility and decreasing waiting times for Jobseeker and Youth Allowance Jobseeker payments (read more here).
There will also be two one-off payments of $750 made to people who receive certain Centrelink payments or hold eligible concession cards (read more here). The first payment will be made between 12th March- 13th April 2020. To be eligible people need to receive:
Disability Support Pension
Widow B Pension
ABSTUDY (Living Allowance)
Farm Household Allowance
Family Tax Benefit A
Family Tax Benefit B
Double Orphan Pension.
Or have a:
Pensioner Concession Cardholders
Commonwealth Seniors Health Cardholders
Veteran Gold Card
The second payment will be will be available from the 10th July onwards. The eligibility is the same as the first payment. However, people who receive the coronavirus supplement payment will not be eligible for the second payment.
People can receive both the first and second payment. However, it is only one payment per round. Regardless of how many criteria a person meets.
The government is also allowing some people whose income has been affected by the coronavirus to access up to $10,000 for their superannuation (read more here).
People who have been instructed to self-isolate by a medical professional or government authority will be exempt from Centrelink Mutual Obligations in this period.
Casual workers who have self-isolated or have COVID-19 might also be eligible for sickness allowance. The government has promised to speed up the processing time to 5 days.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES AND NOT FOR PROFITS
The Australian government is also providing relief packages between $20,000- $100,000 for small to medium businesses and Not For Profits (read more here). To be eligible businesses must:
Have an annual turnover of less than $50 million.
You will receive the packages automatically as reductions of your BAS liability to the ATO.
The government has also introduced a JobKeeper payment for businesses (including Not For Profits) that have been significantly impacting by the coronavirus. The payment is $1,500 per employee each fortnight to keep people at work. You can read DSC’s lowdown on the Jobkeeper Payment here.
The government is increasing the instant asset write-off (threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanding access to include all businesses with an annual turnover of less than $500 million until 30 June 2020.
The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has also put out advice regarding audits acknowledging:
The critical focus for NDIS providers right now is managing infection risk and business continuity
This will likely affect audit readiness and capacity (particularly on-site activities)
Auditors have been instructed to:
Review audit practices to minimise risk of exposure to COVID-19
Engage with providers scheduled for upcoming audits to confirm availability to continue
Delay or reschedule audit dates where providers are not in a position to proceed
The Commission will provide targeted advice to providers, such as varying conditions of registration and extending audit timeframes as necessary.
You can read DSC’s exploration of auditing in a pandemic here.
ARE DISABILITY SERVICES CONSIDERED ESSENTIAL?
Many disability services are considered essential. If a person needs more than one support worker to come into their house for daily living activities, that is allowed.
As the transmission of COVID-19 spreads, it is increasingly important that support workers understand how to keep themselves and the people they support infection free.
The Department of Health has developed an online learning module and webinar about infection prevention for COVID-19.
We have also developed a free, online module for support workers on Supporting People to Stay Infection Free. Sign up as many learners as you need at no extra cost. You can also host the course on your own LMS.
The Quality and Safeguards Commission is also giving the following advice:
Provide adequate training and refreshers to all staff on respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene practices.
Ensure support workers who have travelled overseas or interstate self-isolate for 14 days before returning to work.
Conduct routine environmental cleaning, particularly for frequently-touched surfaces and proper waste management.
Where possible, continue in-home supports and shared care planning to minimise the risk of a participant being admitted to health or quarantined facilities.
Where a case of COVID-19 is suspected, clear communication on preventive health measures should be given to staff and updated as circumstances change.
Make sure that participants are kept informed and support them to understand how they can stay safe. There are accessible resources on our Coronavirus information for people with a disability page, including an Easy Read factsheet.
And of course, practise good hygiene
practise social distancing
follow the limits for public gatherings
understand how to self-isolate if you need to*
*Source: Department of Health
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
The next little while is going to be tough for many people’s mental health.
People can now have Medicare rebated telephone session with mental health professionals, providing they meet the telehealth criteria (see ‘Accessing health services’).
Of course, there are always phone services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People can call for themselves or to get advice about someone else.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Kid’s Helpline 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
South Australia has now implemented welfare calls for elderly people, people with disability, people recovering from illness or injury or anyone with an ongoing health condition. People can opt-in to daily check-ins. People can register by phone 1800 188 071 or register online at register.redcross.org.au.
A number of organisations have produced accessible information the coronavirus. Here are a couple of great ones we have found:
The NDIA has coronavirus information in Easy Read, Auslan and a selection of other languages.
DSS has created accessible coronavirus resources, in Easy Read and Auslan.
The Growing Space has produced a great Easy Read document.
Access Easy English has created lots of COVID-19 resources. The include information on keeping yourself safe and understanding the government rules.
This Q&A on COVID-19 and Downs Syndrome is an excellent resources, some of the information is also relevant to people with other disabilities.
Queenslanders with Disability Network has also produced an Easy Read on COVID-19 preparedness.
Photosymbols also has developed Easy Ready information.
The Council for Intellectual Disability has developed Easy Read documents, including on: Staying Safe From Coronavirus, Viruses and Staying Healthy, Look After Your Mental Health in Coronavirus and the COVID Safe App.
Little Puddins has also produced a coronavirus social story.
There is no getting around the fact that this is a scary time for everyone, particularly people with disability and their families. But with vigilance and compassion we can get through it. The disability sector has always modelled both of these practices. By putting those principals at the centre of everything we do, we can keep ourselves and the community safe.