Following last Friday’s meeting between the state and territory Disability Ministers and Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Linda Reynolds, it was announced that independent assessments (IAs) in their current form will not go ahead.

As Shadow Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten put it “Independent assessments are dead, at least, dead for the time being…it’s back to the drawing board”.

This announcement followed a series of reports released last week by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the NDIS’s Independent Advisory Council (IAC). The IAC is comprised of members from a wide range of disability and advocacy sectors, who bring lived experience and/or expertise of disability to be the voice of the participants.

The IAC was asked to provide guidance to the NDIA on the specific changes needed for its reform proposals to access and planning, which included IAs and the introduction of the Personalised Budget Tool (PBT). In its comprehensive, frank report, the IAC made numerous recommendations, including for:

  • A halt to IAs in their current form
  • A new co-design process of IAs and the PBT in partnership with the disability community
  • A right to review IA reports to ensure they are a true and accurate reflection of a person’s functional capacity
  • The development of a clear and transparent IA quality assurance and complaints process
  • An eight week public consultation on any draft legislation that seeks to reform the NDIS Act and
  • The development of a partnership agreement with the IAC and representatives from Disabled Persons’ Organisations to outline expectations for working together and in co-design processes.

The IAC report emphasised that the NDIA needs to re-build trust with the disability community and be transparent about proposed changes and challenges facing the Scheme.

Last week the NDIA also released its Interim Evaluation Report of its Second IA Pilot. Since the inception of the second IA pilot until May 31, 2021 a total of 3,759 IAs had been completed. However, the report was based on only 948 survey responses, of which only 378 were participants. In other words, only 10% of participants provided direct feedback on their IA experience.

Of the 948 responses, 70% rated their experience as good, very good or excellent. While the majority of respondents felt that an assessor’s knowledge of a participant’s disability was the most important factor in having a positive experience, only 49% of respondents found that their assessor had a good amount of knowledge regarding the participant’s disability.

Only 65% of respondents felt that their IA report was an excellent or very good reflection of their functional capacity and many felt that reports needed more information about a person’s goals and support needs.

The NDIS Minister has accepted the first recommendation and the Disability Reform Ministers have agreed to work together with people with lived experience of disability to design a person-centred model to deliver consistency and equity across access and planning outcomes.

However, finding a pathway for reform to NDIS legislation to include the NDIS Participant Service Guarantee, Tune Review recommendations and fraud measures are still on the agenda for the coming months, so we look forward to providing any feedback on draft bills released soon.

So, what now?

Well, it seems like the disability sector can look forward to being at the table in a future co-design process for a new model of reforms. What form this takes is yet to be determined.

SCIA looks forward to contributing to this process as much as possible and amplifying the voices of its members in any reforms moving forward.

Written by Megan Bingham, our systemic advocate from our Policy and Advocacy Sydney Team.