The audit assessed the effectiveness of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs administration of the Repatriation Transport Scheme.
Audit objective and criteria
To form a conclusion against the audit objective the ANAO adopted the following high level criteria:
- DVA administers the RTS in accordance with legislation and relevant guidelines;
- DVA has implemented systems and processes to provide authorised transport services and travel reimbursements to eligible clients in an accurate and timely manner;
- DVA has procured transport services in accordance with relevant guidelines and effectively manages relevant contracts; and
- DVA effectively monitors and reports on performance to inform its delivery of the RTS.
The ANAO did not examine DVA’s administration of funding to state and territory governments for the provision of ambulance services under the RTS.
The Repatriation Transport Scheme (RTS or the Scheme) was introduced in 1986 to assist eligible veterans to attend medical appointments. Assistance is provided through: the reimbursement of costs incurred for travel; a Booked Car Scheme (BCS); and ambulance transport in some circumstances. Veterans seeking travel reimbursement tend to be younger and can generally make their own travel arrangements, while the Booked Car Scheme is intended to assist aged and frail veterans with higher levels of need through contracted transport providers. In 2013–14, DVA processed around 160 000 claims for travel reimbursement at a cost of $21.4 million and organised over one million trips under the Booked Car Scheme, using over 300 contracted transport providers at a cost of $64.4 million. The department has budgeted $191 million for the RTS in 2014–15 and anticipates that expenditure will increase by approximately $4 million annually over the next three years.
Overall, DVA’s procurement and delivery of services to veterans under the RTS has been generally effective. The department provides transport services to many thousands of veterans on a daily basis, has reported consistently good performance against its targets for processing travel claims, and receives relatively few complaints relating to travel bookings arranged by the department. Further, DVA’s procurement of transport providers in 2011–12 introduced a more competitive pricing structure across a national network of transport service providers, and the department has actively managed its contracts with transport providers to maintain service quality. However, there remains scope for improvement in the RTS control framework to enhance the level of confidence regarding the validity and accuracy of travel claims and bookings.
In 2013–14, DVA reported that 93 per cent of all travel reimbursement claims were processed within the 28 day target and a consistently low level of complaints was recorded in relation to travel reimbursement claims and travel bookings arranged by the department. To effectively deliver the BCS, the department undertook a national procurement exercise in 2011–12 with a view to introducing a level of competition between transport providers and achieving better value for money outcomes. DVA subsequently entered into contracts with over 300 taxi and hire car providers, and has actively managed the agreements so as to maintain services at specified levels.
The department has also sought to improve services to veterans through the introduction of online claiming for the reimbursement of travel costs. As part of that process, in 2012 DVA removed key safeguards against fraudulent or incorrect payments—specifically the requirement for veterans to submit receipts with travel claims and the need for health providers to formally endorse the necessity for travel to a medical appointment. While the risks associated with the removal of these core payment controls were identified at the time, the department failed to implement its planned mitigation measures—the introduction of post-payment monitoring and enhanced quality assurance processes—and the risks remained largely untreated for three years.
During the course of this audit, DVA revised its quality management framework for travel claims reimbursement to include a process for monitoring the validity and accuracy of payments once they have been made. Implementation of the revised quality management framework is at an early stage, and in light of past experience the department should review its overall approach to implementing the planned initiatives so as to provide management assurance that agreed risk mitigation measures will be progressed and will operate as anticipated.
The administration of payments to contracted transport providers under the BCS is supported by appropriate controls built into the relevant ICT system, known as the Transport Booking and Invoicing System (TBIS). However, two older booking methods under the BCS—the Direct Booking Model and NSW Country Taxi Voucher Scheme—continue to operate outside the TBIS control framework. In particular, bookings are not made through TBIS and DVA staff cannot conduct normal pre‑travel eligibility checks or provide travel approvals, and the department only becomes aware that travel has been undertaken when an invoice is received. The annual cost of bookings made through these methods is approximately $16 million, or one‑quarter of the value of all bookings under the BCS. To strengthen the level of assurance that BCS requirements are met, there would be benefit in the department also applying the post‑payment monitoring capability for travel reimbursement, currently under development, to the BCS.
A key lesson of this audit is the importance of senior management oversight and monitoring of planned implementation activities, and timely escalation when implementation risks emerge. As mentioned, in the course of implementing online service improvements in 2012, DVA failed to implement planned risk mitigation measures to help maintain the integrity of travel claims under the RTS. The ANAO has made one recommendation focusing on the provision of management assurance relating to the implementation of agreed risk mitigation measures.