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Quarterly Reports in the Time of COVID-19

The NDIS has just released its latest Quarterly Report. We explore what the data tells us about the progress of the Scheme in the midst of a changing world.

By Sara Gingold

Updated 15 Apr 202420 May 2020

This article uses data from March 2020.

The latest Quarterly Report covers the period of 1st January- 31st March 2020. So quite an eventful time in the world’s history, to say the least. Naturally, the NDIS saw a lot of change in this time, making this a particularly interesting report. Let’s take a look at what it had to say:

1.     A TIME OF GREAT (POLICY) CHANGE

There have been very, very many policy changes over this quarter (and in the months since). In any other time, we would think the NDIA staff were taking performance enhancing steroids, but given the pace that the rest of the world is moving at the moment they are really only just keeping up.

A lot of these are temporary measures designed to address the fallout from the pandemic. But it will be interesting to monitor throughout the year which ones fade away and which sneakily stay put. Here are the highlights:

  • A move to telephone planning (it’s like we have gone back in time to 2017, except this time we can’t even really blame them).
  • Automatically extending plans that are coming to an end for 12 months or up to 24 months at the person’s request
  • Allowing people to use low cost AT funding on telecommunications devices and fitness equipment (conditions apply)
  • 1-month advance payments for NDIS providers
  • 10% COVID-19 loading on some support line items
  • Changes to the cancellation policy
  • New Support Coordination line items in Core
  • Two new SIL line items for houses with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Disability providers and self managed participants can now access PPE through the National Medical Stockpile

And the changes keep coming. Only last week the NDIA announced greater flexibility in how participants can use their Core funding.

 

DIVERSITY

This quarter actually saw a quite significant improvement in many of the NDIS’s key diversity benchmarks:

  • 11.3% of people who received a plan this quarter were from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds, compared to 8.9% in all previous quarters combined.
  • 7.7% of people who received a plan this quarter were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, compared to 6.1% in previous quarters combined.
  • 1.9% of new Scheme entrants were from remote or very remote communities, compared to 1.4% previously.12.6% of people who received a first plan this quarter had a psychosocial disability, compared to 9.1% previously.

These are quite dramatic jumps, but there is very little in terms of explanation for what actually caused them. The only exception is psychosocial disability, with the report confirming the NDIA has taken steps to address psychosocial disability access inequalities. They have streamlined the access process (whatever that means), created new documents to support people to gather evidence and provided more training for the mental health sector.

ACCESS

On the access topic: access barriers are set to be a growing challenge for the NDIS as the transition from Commonwealth and State and Territory programs concludes. Currently, 42% of participants in the Scheme are receiving support for the very first time. A number that has been steadily growing for years.

Take it from someone who has been there, the process of accessing the NDIS is complex, overly bureaucratic and at times downright frustrating. But I was somewhat comforted to see in this report that the Agency is taking steps to address this, albeit small steps. They have launched a Collaborative Access (CA) program, in which LACs provide more direct support to people completing access requests. I mean, this was always technically part of LACs’ job. But we all know that Planning takes up the bulk of the LAC workload, so it would be good to see a significant increase in the capacity of LACs to provide access support.

 

JOINT PLANNING MEETINGS

Joint planning meetings are when the participant, LAC Planner and NDIA delegate all have a meeting to discuss the plan before it gets approved. This quarter, joint planning began to rollout in Queensland. But it looks like it hit a slight snag. Of the 30 joint planning meetings booked, 23 of the participants elected to forgo the joint meeting and have their plan approved immediately. This could just be a sign of the times, people were pretty stressed out this quarter. But if that trend continues, it will be problematic for the future of joint planning.

 

UTILISATION

I know we talk about this every quarter, but utilisation rates are still not looking great. Currently, participants are using on average 68% of their plans. For people without SIL funding, it goes down to 61%. This number has been pretty steady for a while now, but what makes it more concerning is that the Temporary Transformation Payment (TTP) applied last year increases the amount that providers can charge for a lot of supports but is not matched by an increase in the size of plans. So really, plan utilisation should have gone up by now. And significantly too. 

One point of hope, however, is that by their fifth plan participants are using on average 78% of their plan. So that’s looking a bit better.

 

DIGITAL PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM

This report also talks about Digital Partnership Program, which actually sounds kind of cool (in the nerdiest of ways). It will give approved providers access to core NDIA systems and data, so that they can create their own apps, tools and digital marketplaces. The ability to connect directly to NDIA systems is something the market has being crying out for since the beginning of the NDIS and it is encouraging to see this moving ahead. Think: websites that use up to date NDIA data to inform providers about thin markets and potential opportunities, tools that allow participants to compare a greater number of providers. Those interested can find more information about the program here.

That’s it for our quick summary. Data nerds, be sure to check out the full report here. 

Authors

Sara Gingold

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