How is the disability sector faring? A report from National Disability Services’ annual market survey 2020

Disability insurance Disability National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Disability services Australia

The National Disability Services’ (NDS) Annual Market Survey has become one of the most important resources for understanding change in the Australian disability sector since the launch of the NDIS. The survey provides insight into service provider’s perceptions of the NDIS, the operating environment for the sector and financial sustainability. The 2019 survey found the operating environment for the sector, particularly prices, have improved on previous years. However, there continues to be uncertainty and concern about the sustainability of organisations within the NDIS.

Provider perceptions of operating conditions for the disability sector have improved. Just 38% of providers in 2019 say that conditions have worsened in the last 12 months, compared to 55% in 2018. Providers increasingly feel NDIS reforms are heading in the right direction (up from 47% in 2018 to 55% in 2019). More established organisations (i.e. formed prior to 2015) are more likely to agree the risks outweigh the opportunities, than organisations formed since 2015. Recently established organisations are more likely to have designed their organisation with NDIS processes in mind, and are less likely to have experienced the many transition issues faced by more experienced organisations.

However, the disability sector continues to be characterised by uncertainty. Three quarters of the sector feels the operating environment is uncertain. In particular, providers describe a turbulent operating environment with frequent policy changes and inconsistencies from government agencies. At present only 19% of providers feel the NDIA is working well with the sector, and only 22% feel the NDIA has respect for providers. Provider relationships with the Quality and Safeguards Commission differ by location. This reflects the State by State NDIS roll out. In general, however, providers feel the Commission has made a good start to establishing itself as a contemporary regulator. Providers operating in New South Wales and South Australia (the first jurisdictions to come under the remit of the new regulator) are more positive than others - 36% agree that the Commission is working well with providers, compared to 21% of providers in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, which transitioned mid 2019.

Main recommendations:

  • Either resource the NDIA to ensure adequate staffing, thereby addressing time delays, inconsistencies in advice between staff and locations, or outsource functions to appropriately qualified non-government providers.
  • Provide more training to NDIA staff around communication with the sector and changes in rules and regulations, thereby helping to rebuilt trust between the NDIA and the sector.
  • Investment by government in independent advocacy to provide high quality independent advocacy (which will also lift excessive administrative burden from providers).
  • Continue to monitor and improve pricing structures.

Overall, this report paints a picture of a sector that continues to be precarious and frustrated with the reform process. There is a clear call from the sector for consistent and reliable information and communication, along with a recognition of the large administrative burden placed on the sector while the NDIS takes shape. Without addressing these issues, the vision of the NDIS of increased choice and control for eligible Australians with disability is at risk.

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