Newly minted Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds has bowed to pressure and hit pause on widely criticised changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
But she’s stopped short of scrapping the plans altogether, leaving NDIS recipients in limbo over their future funding allocations.
It comes in the same week that leaked documents revealed the federal government was looking to limit new NDIS applicants, as well as the amount of money allocated to existing users, to avoid running over budget.
Senator Reynolds, who has been in the job for less than 20 days, told The Australian on Wednesday she will suspend controversial plans to roll out mandatory assessments for NDIS recipients, which were mooted to catch any ‘excess’ funds being doled out.
She said the three-hour, independent assessments were still being considered, but would be paused until the end of trials and after nationwide consultations.
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which is responsible for running the scheme, won’t say when the pilot trial is due to be finished.
However, the NDIS website states the results would be made available “later this year”, indicating the proposed laws may be off the cards for some months.
In the meantime, NDIS recipients like Nora Cufley, 58, are left hanging.
A quadriplegic of 40 years who now suffers from serious pressure sores and a bone infection, Ms Cufley requires 24/7 disability care.
She fears the government’s push to introduce mandatory assessments is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to claw back money from Australians receiving NDIS funding.
“In the beginning, money was being thrown around like confetti,” she told The New Daily.
“Then when they realised money was being treated like that, it got tighter and tighter and the budget got smaller. Now it’s gone too far the other way. They’ve become very paranoid about spending.”
Ms Cufley added many of the agency workers tasked with managing Australians on the scheme had not received adequate training.
“Some people I know who are paralysed get less care than they need, because the people that are making these decisions don’t have any knowledge or experience with disabilities,” she said.
“A lot of them have jumped on the NDIS bandwagon but have no skills in disability …They’ve got no idea.”
In a statement to TND, an NDIA spokesperson said its range of independent assessors were all registered health professionals, which included speech pathologists and occupational therapists.
“It is important to note that independent assessors do not determine a person’s access to the scheme or a participant’s level of funding,” the spokesperson said.
“Independent assessments are designed to better understand a person’s functional capacity. Access and planning decisions continue to be made by NDIA delegates.”
In a statement to TND, Senator Reynolds said she will be “closely assessing the independent assessment trial outcomes before any enabling legislation is taken forward”.
“The purpose of the trial is to understand what is working and what needs to be improved,” Senator Reynolds said.
Greens disability spokesperson Jordon Steele-John isn’t buying it.
“When the plan to introduce compulsory independent assessments was announced, our community said very clearly that this proposal was just a smokescreen for blocking access and cutting support,” he said.
Earlier this week, leaked documents obtained by The Saturday Paper revealed the federal government was seeking to limit access to NDIS funds, as well as the amount of money allocated to existing users, to avoid running over budget.
An internal memo, dated April 2021, showed a Sustainability Action Taskforce (SAT) had been working on “actions we need to take to avoid this forecast (budget) overrun”.
“The actions of the SAT will make immediate changes to slow growth in participant numbers, slow growth in spend per participant and strengthen operational discipline,” the memo reads.
“We need to act now to ensure we can deliver a better NDIS.”
The leaked document has rattled parents like Melbourne mum Rhonda Driscoll.
Her daughter Chloe, 27, was diagnosed with oral and motor dyspraxia and a mild intellectual disability, after being born with a piece missing from her 10th chromosome.
“The NDIS can be an absolute game changer for people living with a disability,” Ms Driscoll told TND.
“I hate to think we’re getting something that changes Chloe’s life so much, and that someone in a similar situation wouldn’t get access. It’d be really unfair.”
She said the NDIS has been “instrumental” in helping Chloe secure a part-time job at a Melbourne sports centre.
More than 430,000 Australians are on the NDIS, with projections that number will leap beyond 500,000 in coming years.
The scheme is expected to cost $93.8 billion over the next four financial years, as of the 2020-21 Budget.