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Support Coordination and Disability Advocacy

The line between support coordination and advocacy can be a tricky one to pin down. Lisa and Susan discuss how to differentiate between these supports.

By Lisa Duffy and Susan Parker

Updated 19 Apr 202411 Apr 20245 min read
A speech bubble broken up into colourful pieces and different coloured hands reaching towards the pieces

Sometimes, support coordination and disability advocacy can present with similarities that can lead to role confusion. In this article, we look at the legislation and official advice on how to differentiate between these distinct but interconnected roles.

First things first: What is disability advocacy?

Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) defines effective disability advocacy as a role that: ‘promotes, protects and supports a person’s, or group’s, full and equal human rights. Advocates support or work on behalf of a person with disability to help them to speak out and defend their rights and interests.’

Disability advocacy can support people to navigate government systems and issues relating to disability rights. As is sometimes the case with support coordinators, different advocates and advocacy services may have different specialisations, and this should be considered when referring.

DANA explains that there are six main models of advocacy: self-advocacy, family advocacy, citizen advocacy, individual advocacy, legal advocacy, and systemic advocacy. This article will focus on individual and self-advocacy.

Importantly, disability advocacy is not funded by the NDIS, meaning disability advocates do not have a conflict of interest when supporting a person through NDIS related matters.

What is support coordination?

Support coordination is an NDIS-funded capacity building support that works with participants to facilitate understanding of NDIS, community, and mainstream supports, connect to and coordinate these supports, and increase their understanding of how-to best use NDIS funds towards their goals.

Support coordination will look different depending on each person’s NDIS goals, strengths, interests, support needs, NDIS funding, individual circumstances, and informal supports.

The NDIS website provides more detail about some key support coordinator roles:

  • connect to NDIS and other supports
  • broker supports and services in line with a participant’s wishes and their plan budget
  • monitor plan budgets and support effectiveness
  • build capacity and capability to understand their plan, navigate the NDIS and make their own decisions.

Support coordination is funded in approximately 45% of NDIS Plans. It will only be funded when the need for support coordination has met the NDIS funding criteria.

Support coordination is not advocacy

The NDIS Act 2013 defines independent advocacy and provides some clarity as to why support coordinators cannot act as advocates:

(An) independent advocate, in relation to a person with disability, means a person who:

(a) is independent of the Agency, the Commission and any NDIS providers providing supports or services to the person with disability; and

(b) provides independent advocacy for the person with disability, to assist the person with disability to exercise choice and control and to have their voice heard in matters that affect them; and

(c) acts at the direction of the person with disability, reflecting the person with disability’s expressed wishes, will, preferences and rights; and

(d) is free of relevant conflicts of interest.

As you can see above, disability advocacy services cannot be funded by the NDIA, meaning advocates do not usually have a professional conflict of interest. In contrast, there is often professional conflict of interest at play with support coordination, as support coordinators often work for service providers that deliver multiple service offerings or may be supporting a person to request support coordination funding, and so the support coordination is not independent (check out our recent article on conflict of interest and support coordination here).

The NDIS website also specifically states:

A support coordinator is not an independent advocate (this includes Specialist Support Coordinators). In line with the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (Cth), an independent advocate cannot be:

  • A staff member of the NDIA
  • A staff member of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission
  • A registered or unregistered NDIS provider, including support coordinators.’

And additionally: ‘Your support coordinator should not act as an independent disability advocate for you. However your support coordinator can help you to understand when you might need a formal advocate’.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) funds the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP). Advocacy services can also be funded by the state or territory government, and many services are funded by both. This can at times impact the scope of service available, as different services might be funded in different jurisdictions. The NDIS Review has also recommended more national consistency in the funding of disability advocacy services.

However, a support coordinator has a role to play in building the capacity of an individual so that they can self-advocate.

The NDIA has provided some questions to help support coordinators to identify if/when they may be acting in an advocacy role:

  • Have I done all I can to help the participant make their needs clear to the provider, worker, or government system through the established processes?
  • Is the participant entering into a dispute, especially where there is legal involvement or escalation to administrative appeals?
  • Have I fallen into dispute in a way that undermines my role and effectiveness as a support coordinator?
  • Does my involvement in an NDIS review process create a conflict of interest, especially if I am requesting more support coordination funding at the participant’s plan reassessment?
  • Is the level of complexity or time required to adequately represent the person beyond the level of support allocated to support coordination?
  • Is the level of representation required beyond my skills and capacity, and the participant would benefit from an experienced advocate?
  • Is there an appropriate formal advocacy service to refer the participant to?

When participants are appealing an NDIA decision at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) the NDIA makes it clear that a support coordinator cannot represent a participant:

‘If you’re a participant, you can use your NDIS funding for disability related supports during the hearings. For example, you might need support for personal care or communication supports to help you participate in discussions.

But you can’t use your NDIS funding for someone to represent you at the Tribunal. For example, you can’t use your NDIS funding for a lawyer, support coordinator or other provider.’

Head to DSC’s free resource to assist with understanding more about navigating the AAT.

So how are advocacy and support coordination similar?

There is certainly some overlap in some of the key tasks of a support coordinator and advocate. For example:

  • Building an NDIS participant’s capacity to self-advocate
  • Providing information and support so that a participant understands their rights
  • Providing information to facilitate informed decision-making
  • Providing information about other relevant services, and assisting with linking and referral if necessary

Can someone have a support coordinator and an advocate?

There are times when a person can have both an independent disability advocate and a support coordinator on their team. In any case, clear communication between all stakeholders is essential - to provide clarity on roles and responsibilities, and to avoid any potential for role boundary overlap or confusion.

Further detail about advocacy can be found in the DSS Disability Advocacy Fact Sheet. The Disability Advocacy Finder on the Ask Izzy website is a great place to start to search for an advocacy service, and a free online course created by DARU (Disability Advocacy Resource Unit) could assist with understanding the differences between Advocacy, Support Coordination, and Local Area Coordination.


Lisa Duffy
Susan Parker

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