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Quarterly report minus the boring stuff

Sara details all the juicy parts of the quarterly report including Scheme sustainability, plan sizes, plan utilisation and NDIA’s new priorities.

By Sara Gingold

Updated 15 Apr 202418 Aug 2022

When a new quarterly report is bestowed upon the NDIS observant and faithful, it provokes a complex set of emotions. The truth is that quarterly reports, like most things in this world, have their pros and their cons.

Pros:

  • Most of us experience the NDIS anecdotally, but the data in quarterly reports allows us to see trends.
  • Quarterly reports give us insight into the NDIA’s priorities and upcoming projects. I actually first learned about Independent Assessments (IAs) in a quarterly report, though at the time I was unaware they would come to dominate a year of my working life.

Cons:

  • 858 pages, are you freakin’ serious?
  • They could do with some more serious analysis and less political messaging. 

Well, dear reader, today is your lucky day. Because we are here to give you all of the pros minus those pesky cons. 

What’s the NDIA focusing on?

First up, let’s look at what the report lists as the NDIA’s key priorities for improvement. They are:

o   Improving employment opportunities for participants

o   Fraud and compliance

o   Assisting participants leave hospital who are ready to be discharged

o   Reducing the number of AAT cases currently open

Does that agenda remind you of anybody? I’ll give you a clue, it starts with B and ends with Shorten. The NDIS is, after all, a political beast.

Scheme sustainability… good news? Maybe?

We’ve all seen the big scary numbers. The last actuarial report predicted the Scheme would cost $59bn by 2030. Personally, I don’t lose much sleep worrying about Australia spending too much on people with disability. But there is a real risk that if Scheme costs don’t stabilise, the NDIS will lose political support. Surprisingly, however, in this report, the numbers are a little less pessimistic. 

In 2021/22, the NDIS cost $28.7bn. This is significantly higher than the Productivity Commission’s 2017 estimate of $25.2bn but is actually 1.9% lower than the last actuarial projection. The report notes that this might be partly due to COVID lockdowns, suggesting the NDIA is sceptical about whether spending will continue to be lower than projections in future years. However, interestingly, plan utilisation actually went up during the same period (more on that later). So, it’s unclear exactly what impact the lockdowns had on overall spending. 

The rate of payment growth is slowing down

NDIS data differentiates between plan budgets (the amount put into a plan) and payments (the amount the participant spends). If you look at the graph below, you’ll see that the average payment rate has jumped from $42,400 in 2019 to $55,200 in 2022. All NDIS financial sustainability reports from the last few years have made it clear that the NDIA considers this growth a cause for concern.

However, between 2021 and 2022, the average payment size only increased by 2%. This is significantly less than the 20% jump between 2019 and 2020. In fact, it’s probably in line with what you would expect given price inflation. In the 2021-22 financial year, the price limit for ‘Assistance with Self Care Standard - Weekday’ increased by 5.6%.

All this suggests that the significant rate of payment growth might be slowing down.

Graph showing the average and median payments for all participants in years ending 30 June. Between 2019 and 2022, the average payment has increased by 9.2% per annum. Find the graph in the Y9 Q4 report on page 121. https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/publications/quarterly-reports

Plan budgets - are they up, or are they down?

What about plan budget sizes, I hear you ask. Are they growing, shrinking or something in between? Unfortunately, this being the NDIS, there isn’t a simple answer.

On average, plan budgets are trending downwards. If you look at the graph below, you’ll see the average plan budget was $70,100 in 2019/20, before going down to $69,200 in 2020/21 and $68,800 in 2021/22. This trend is partly due to changing demographics in the Scheme. The participant cohort now includes more children with small plans and a lower proportion of SIL residents. When demographics change like this, it messes with averages. However, as we have explored in a previous article, changing demographics alone does not fully account for the drop.

Graph showing that between 2016/17 and 2019/20 the average plan size per participant has been steadily increasing. In 2020/21 and 2021/22 the average plan sizes decreased slightly. But a second bar has been added to the graph for the years 2020/21 and 2021/22. The second bar in 2020/21 shows only participants active at 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021, for this groups plan averages had risen to $75,500. The second bar for 2021/22 shows participants active at 30 June 2021 and 30 June 2022, for this group plan sizes were $74,000. Find the full graph in the Y9 Q4 report on page 9 https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/publications/quarterly-reports

If you can believe it, things only get more complex from there. As you can see in the graph above, a second bar has been added in the years 2020/21 and 2021/22. This represents the cohort of participants who were already in the Scheme at the start of that financial year and did not leave in that year. For this cohort, plan sizes increased. Basically, this is just the most confusing way you can imagine of saying, “If you were already in the Scheme, don’t stress about these averages, it’s just the newbies who are super cheap.”

Incidentally, in the last quarter, 44% of new entrants to the Scheme were between 0-6. Plans for kids this age average $25,000.

Employment remains a hard problem

Despite employment being an ongoing government priority, the NDIS has not had much success in supporting people to find paid work. For people between the ages of 15-64 who have been in the Scheme at least two years, only 23% are in paid work. This is just 1% higher than the 22% baseline. If you split the data by age, the picture looks even bleaker. In most age brackets, employment rates have actually decreased from the baseline. For people between 15-24, employment rates increased from 11% to 21%. But it’s hard to know how much this is simply a reflection of the fact that this is the age people tend to get their first jobs.

According to the report, the NDIA has been training LACs and planners to lead conversations about employment at plan reassessments. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the number of people with employment goals in their plans increased from 35% to 37%, suggesting the training is leading to some change. Moreover, 59% of people between 15-24 now have an employment goal in their plan.

Internal and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) reviews

The NDIA has come under fire recently for the large number of funding disputes going before the AAT. Last quarter, there were 1,302 new AAT proceedings launched, representing 0.99% of participants. This figure has been trending downwards since the all-time high of 1.51% in December 2021. But the current figures are still considerably higher than two years ago, when only 0.39% of participants had active AAT cases.

graph showing the number and proportion of new AAT cases over time, between June 2019 and June 2022. The proportion of cases began to rise significantly in March 2021, before reaching the all time hight in December 2021 at 1.51%, and has been dropping slightly over the last few quarters. It was at its lowest of 0.34% in September 2020. Find the full graph on page 85 of the Y9 Q4 report https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/publications/quarterly-reports

Less than 3% of AAT cases ever actually go to a hearing, with the majority being settled or withdrawn. Of the cases that have gone to hearing, 41% were decided in the NDIA’s favour.

The proportion of participants with active internal reviews has decreased from 9.9% in June 2021 to 7.5% in June 2022. However, this should be considered in the context of longer plans leading to fewer participants undergoing reassessments. 

Plan utilisation goes up

Over the last financial year, plan utilisation was the highest it’s been since 2015/16, when the Scheme was still in roll-out mode. In 2021/22, people used 75% of their NDIS funds. This is up from 73% in 2020/21 and 71% in 2019/20.

There is a ‘good news’ or ‘bad news’ interpretation of this data. The ‘good news’ suggests participants are having an easier time accessing supports, either because of a maturing market or growing NDIS literacy. The ‘bad news’ interpretation is that with plan sizes going down or not rising to meet price inflation, participants are using a greater percentage of their plans to access the same supports.

IGAP and co-design

After the mess that went down over the last few years, the NDIA is now pretty keen to build up its co-design credentials. A solid chunk of the report’s introduction is dedicated to listing all the new co-design committees and what they are working on. There are basically a lot of new committees and advisory groups, but you probably don’t need to worry about all their names just yet. 

One of the juicier upcoming endeavours is the Information Gathering for Access and Planning (IGAP) project, which is exploring how the NDIA can get the information it needs for access and planning decisions.

As part of the IGAP project, since March, the NDIA has:

·      Conducted focus groups about people’s experiences of the access and planning process. There is also a 20-minute online survey, which is still open.

·      Begun the process of establishing a Professional Advice Panel, which will consist of health, medical and technical professionals.

·      Commissioned reviews into the information gathering requirements outlined in the NDIS Act and the “NDIA’s clinical advisory function”. Full transparency: I have direct quoted that last part because I have no idea what it means.

I spy with my little eye

Towards the end of the report, there is a section dealing with cybersecurity. Now, this is obviously a very serious and important issue, but this line did raise an eyebrow:
“The NDIA, in conjunction with other partner organisations, manages its risk profile which continues to be targeted by Foreign Intelligence Services and criminal enterprises to gain access to valuable participant data and information. In addition, social activists and other hacktivists continue to target the NDIA, motivated by political or social change.”

Foreign Intelligence Services? Criminal enterprises? Hacktivists? Look out Spooks, there’s a new spy thriller in town!

Before you go…

 I know we began this article by promising to save you from the unique form of purgatory which is reading the quarterly report yourself. However, please keep in mind that we’re talking about an 858-page report. Naturally, this piece does not cover everything. So, if you want to read the whole thing or find a specific piece of data, you can find the full report here.

Authors

Sara Gingold

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