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2.2 Where we are today

2.2.1 NDIA Aspirations

Drawing on the expectations of the former Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council, the Agency’s purpose is supported by five aspirations, as outlined in the NDIA Corporate Plan 2019–2023 and illustrated in figure 2.2.1A. The five aspirations are:

1. A quality experience and outcomes for participants

2. A competitive market with innovative supports

3. A connected and engaged stakeholder sector

4. A financially sustainable scheme

5. A high–performing NDIA.

The Disability Ministers’ expectations for participant and community outcomes, supporting market development, and safeguarding the sustainability of the NDIS are reflected in Aspirations 1, 2 and 4. The expectations for developing a high-performing NDIA and building and maintaining stakeholder confidence are reflected in Aspirations 3 and 5.

The new NDIA Corporate Plan for 2020–2024 includes an additional aspiration that articulates the Agency’s work within a whole-of-government response in slowing the spread of COVID–19, and ensuring continuity of essential services to NDIS participants.

To view the current NDIA Corporate Plan, go to www.ndis.gov.au.

Figure 2.2.1A: NDIA Purpose and Aspirations (2019–2023)

Figure 2.2.1A is a diagram that shows the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) purpose and five aspirations as described in the NDIA Corporate Plan 2019–23. The NDIA purpose is to increase the ability of individuals with a significant and permanent disability (participants) to be more independent, and engage more socially and economically, at the same time as delivering a financially sustainable Scheme that inspires community and stakeholder confidence.The image shows each of the Agency’s five aspirations extending from the purpose.Aspiration 1 is A quality experience and outcomes for participants. Facilitate outcomes of economic and social independence and deliver a quality service for participants, and their families, carers and providers.Aspiration 2 is A competitive market with innovative supports. Work with participants and other stakeholders to enable the growth of a market of adequate size, quality and innovation.Aspiration 3 is A connected and engaged stakeholder sector. A strong and engaged stakeholder sector that genuinely collaborates and contributes to the delivery of the Scheme, with confidence in the NDIA.Aspiration 4 is A financially sustainable scheme. Deliver a financially sustainable Scheme within the agreed funding, based on insurance principles and risk awareness.Aspiration 5 is A high-performing NDIA. Develop a high-performing NDIA that has an engaged workforce with systems and processes that facilitate service excellence.

2.2.2 NDIA Values

The Agency works within a set of four key values, illustrated in figure 2.2.2A. These values, which were developed in consultation with staff and partners, reflect our passion for and commitment to an empowered, inclusive and participant-centred culture.

Figure 2.2.2A: National Disability Insurance Agency Values

 1 - we value people (we put participants at the heart of everything we do); 2 - we grow together (we work together to deliver quality outcomes); 3 - we aim higher (we are resilient and always have the courage to do better); and 4 - we take care (we own what we do and we do the right thing).

Additionally, all Agency staff are required to follow the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct, which require all staff to be impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful and ethical.

2.2.3 Key achievements in 2019–20

Response to coronavirus (COVID–19)

Throughout the first half of 2020, the priority of the NDIA was supporting participants, providers, staff and partners during the COVID–19 pandemic. The response required a rapid realignment of priorities as the Agency responded to ensure participants, including those deemed to be at high risk, continued to get the support they needed.

The NDIA continues to work across governments, including with the Department of Social Services (DSS), the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, Services Australia, and state and territory governments to ensure continuity of essential supports for NDIS participants. This includes a specific focus on supporting participants in COVID–19 ‘hot-spots’, especially Victoria.

As at 30 June 2020, the NDIA had rolled out initiatives to support participants during the pandemic, including:

  • Proactively contacting 65,844 vulnerable participants to ensure they had the essential support they required. This measure was very well received by participants. Subsequently, efforts have been redoubled with Victoria’s declaration of a State of Disaster in August 2020.
  • Working closely with state and territory officials to alleviate pressure on the hospital system. More than 1,000 participants who were clinically ready for discharge from hospital exited the hospital system to alternative accommodation.
  • Working with supermarket retailers to make sure NDIS participants wanting support to grocery shop had priority access to home delivery services.
  • Encouraging participants to identify their essential supports and to use their funding flexibly to meet their critical needs, with plans being amended quickly where required to support this flexibility. Plan flexibility included participants being able to access low-cost assistive technology of up to $1,500 (e.g. smart devices) to help ensure the continuity of NDIS-funded supports (e.g. therapy and social participation).
  • Staff and partners working flexibly to support participants through the pandemic—planning meetings were conducted via phone (or video-conference) or face to face at the preference of the participant.

During the COVID–19 pandemic, underlying payments for support remained at pre-pandemic levels and indeed increased, indicating that participants continued to receive supports while recognising that the mix of supports somewhat changed. Total average weekly payments increased from around $326 million in February and March 2020 to $364 million in June 2020. While community and social participation supports reduced due to community restrictions, activities of daily living supports increased for participants at home.

In addition to supporting participants during the pandemic, the NDIA implemented initiatives to support providers, complementing the broader suite of assistance provided by the Government to businesses and workers. Specific initiatives included:

  • $668 million was paid in one-off advance payments to 4,769 registered providers to support them with immediate cash flow to help them continue to operate and support participants.
  • A temporary 10 per cent COVID–19 price loading on some supports was added for three months (25 March 2020 to 30 June 2020) to help providers better cover the additional costs associated with operating during the pandemic.
  • Increased flexibility with the NDIA’s cancellation policies from 25 March 2020 to 30 June 2020.
  • Two new support items were introduced for participants in supported independent living (SIL) diagnosed with COVID–19 (cleaning services and additional supports to cover the costs of higher intensity support related to the participant’s diagnosis).
  • Access to the National Medical Stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) for disability providers including registered and unregistered providers, and self-managed participants. As at 30 June 2020, 25,550 items of PPE from the National Medical Stockpile have been distributed to organisations delivering support to NDIS participants.

The NDIA has maintained regular engagement with providers and sector stakeholders to ensure the Agency is responsive to emerging issues on the ground, including workforce issues. This includes regular daily meetings as well as personal care calls to CEOs of disability organisations and providers.

The impacts of COVID–19 are far-reaching, and will continue to affect participants, their families, carers, providers and Agency staff for years to come. As the pandemic continues to evolve, and ‘hot-spots’ emerge, the NDIA’s absolute priority continues to be participants’ health, safety, and ensuring participants can continue to access their essential supports. The health of those caring for participants is also a priority. Without them, participants cannot be safe.

In addition to the pandemic, the NDIA supported participants affected by the January 2020 bushfires in Victoria and NSW, both during the emergency and in the recovery phase. Agency–initiated reviews for participants were used in affected areas to capture changes in circumstances and, where required, plans were adjusted to provide necessary supports as well as repairs or replacement of equipment. Agency staff also worked with Services Australia Mobile Service Vehicles and Pop-Up Service to support participants in affected areas.

Quality experience for participants

The NDIA’s central focus is to ensure participants realise the full benefits of this visionary social reform.

The path to ensuring the NDIS delivers on this promise has been challenging. Processes put in place during Trial were ill-defined and systems were inadequately scoped, creating multiple challenges in the Transition Phase of the Scheme. As a result, the Agency was not as well positioned to deliver the quality of service that the Board and management desired.

The focus of the past four years, and in particular of 2020, has been on initiatives to address these challenges, including those related to the underlying NDIS service delivery model. This work has resulted in significant progress being made.

Wait times

Wait times have been reduced. Access decisions are now being made on average within 10 days for adults and six days for children, which is four and seven times faster respectively than was the case 12 months ago. The time to obtain a first plan has significantly reduced by 50 per cent for adults, and 67 per cent for children. This reduction is particularly important for children, as getting support early reduces the impact of development delays or disability.

In addition, plan reviews requested by a participant are being undertaken at pace. As at 30 June 2020, 100 per cent of all decisions on whether a review would be undertaken were made within 21 days. Where it was decided to undertake a review, 53 per cent of the plans were reviewed within 28 days.

Figure 2.2.3A: The average number of days taken to complete an access decision (within the month)

Figure 2.2.3A is a line graph. There are months and year on the horizontal axis from June 2019 to June 2020, in increments of one month; and number of days from zero to 50, in increments of 10. The graph shows as at 30 June 2020, access decisions are now being made on average within 10 days for adults and six days for children; and outstanding access decisions, on average, for six days.

Figure 2.2.3B: The average number of days taken to complete and approve a first plan

Figure 2.2.3B is a line graph. There are months and year on the horizontal axis from June 2019 to June 2020, in increments of one month; and number of days from zero to 150, in increments of 30. The graph shows on average, first plans for participants aged zero to six years were approved within 48 days, and for first plans in progress as at 30 June 2020, had on average been in progress for 19 days. For participants aged seven years and over, first plans were approved on average within 80 days, and first plans that were in progress at 30 June 2020, had on average been in progress for 41 days.

The number of review of reviewable decisions (RoRDs) has increased over the last year due to the increase in the number of participants. As at 30 June 2020, there was a significant reduction (69 per cent) in the number of open RoRDs.

Figure 2.2.3C: RoRDs received and closed during the March quarter and open as at 30 June 2020

 number of open RoRDs as at 30 June 2019, 6,834; number of new RoRDs in Quarter 1 (Q1), 2019–20, plus 7,409,number of closed RoRDs in Q1, 2019–20, minus 5,831. Open RoRDs as at 30 September 2019, 8,412; number of new RoRDs in Quarter 2 (Q2), 2019–20, plus 9,092; number of closed RoRDs in Q2, 2019–20, minus 7,112. Number of open RoRDs as at 31 December 2019, 10,392; number of new RoRDs in Quarter 3 (Q3), 2019–20, plus 9,229; number of closed RoRDs in Q3, 2019–20, minus 12,755. Number of open RoRDs as at 31 March 2020, 6,866; number of new RoRDs in Quarter 4 (Q4), 2019–20, plus 9,166; number of closed RoRDs in Q4, 2019–20, minus 13,916. Number of open RoRDs as at 30 June 2020, 2,116.

The backlog of assistive technology and home modification quotes has been cleared. The Agency aims to have 90 per cent of assistive technology and home modification requests completed in under 10 days.

Moreover, the National Contact Centre (NCC) continues to meet high service levels, with 84 per cent of calls answered within 60 seconds, and abandonment rates consistently are at a low 1.1 per cent. The average speed to answer was less than 26 seconds.

Satisfaction levels are high and continue to improve across each stage of participant engagement with the Scheme. A larger, more robust survey launched in Quarter two 2018–19, shows the improvements made up to Quarter four 2019–20: from 69 per cent to 81 per cent at the access stage; from 75 per cent to 83 per cent during the pre-planning process; from 77 per cent to 84 per cent at the planning process; and from 68 per cent to 85 per cent at the review stage. In response to a key empathy question as to whether the person from the NDIS understands a participant’s disability, satisfaction ranged from 83 per cent to 88 per cent across the pre-planning; planning; and plan review process.

Figure 2.2.3D: Trend of satisfaction across the pathway (% very good/good)

 The Access Process, represented by seven purple coloured bars, shows for 2018–19, Q2 69 per cent, Q3 72 percent, and Q4 69 per cent; for 2019–20, Q1 73 per cent, Q2 75 per cent, Q3 70 per cent, and Q4 81 per cent. The Pre-Planning Process, represented by seven green coloured bars, shows for 2018–19, Q2 75 per cent, Q3 79 per cent, Q4 82 per cent, for 2019–20, Q1 80 per cent, Q2 78 per cent, Q3 80 per cent, and Q4 83 per cent. The Planning Process, represented by seven pink coloured bars, shows for 2018–19, Q2 77 per cent, Q3 80 per cent, Q4 80 per cent, 2019–20, Q1 82 per cent, Q2 79 per cent, Q3 80 per cent, and Q4 84 per cent; The Review Process, represented by seven orange coloured bars, shows for 2018–19, Q2 68 per cent, Q3 74 per cent, Q4 73 per cent, for 2019–20, Q1 78 per cent, Q2 79 per cent, Q3 82 per cent, and Q4 85 per cent.

There has also been a reduction in the number of participant complaints over the past year, and it is now at the lowest rate in three years. Participant complaints received per quarter, as a percentage of access requests, was 5.4 per cent a year ago and is at 3.9 per cent in June 2020. In June 2020, 84 per cent of complaints were closed within 21 days, compared to 32 per cent of complaints in June 2019.

Figure 2.2.3E: Participant complaints received as a proportion of access requests

 September 2016, 668 and 4.6 per cent; December 2016, 1,247 and 6.2 per cent; March 2017, 1,427 and 5.4 per cent; June 2017, 1,902 and 5.5 per cent; September 2017, 2,725 and 6.3 per cent; December 2017, 3,682 and 7.2 per cent; March 2018, 4,215 and 6.8 per cent; June 2018, 5,159 and 7.1 per cent; September 2018, 5,631 and 6.9 per cent; December 2018, 6,020 and 6.7 per cent; March 2019, 5,593 and 5.7 per cent; June 2019, 5,363 and 5.4 per cent; September 2019, 6,210 and 5.6 per cent; December 2019, 6,562 and 5.5 per cent; March 2020, 6,578 and 5.3 per cent; June 2020, 5,211 and 3.9 per cent.

Participant characteristics

More than 120,000, or 31 per cent, of participants in the Scheme have a primary disability of autism, and a further 84,769, or 22 per cent, of participants have an intellectual disability. Understanding trends and differences in the prevalence rate of disability cohorts among age groups and states is important to ensuring equity and fairness in decision-making as well as the ongoing financial sustainability of the NDIS.

Participant diversity

In 2019–20, Scheme participants continued to reflect Australia’s diversity, with higher proportions of participants from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds entering the Scheme. As at 30 June 2020, 25,077 participants in the Scheme identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, compared to 16,417 in the previous year (increase of 52.8 per cent) and 36,066 participants identified as CALD, compared to 24,023 in the previous year (increase of 52.8 per cent). The proportion of participants who identify as CALD (9.2 per cent) is well below the estimate of 21 per cent. The expanded NDIA Community Connector Program will assist the Agency to identify people with disability in CALD communities, increase awareness of the NDIS and provide support for people to access the Scheme. In addition, the NDIA Board has initiated further work to understand the slower than expected intake of CALD participants.

Support for children

Of the 391,999 participants with approved plans at 30 June 2020, 61,962 were children aged 0–6 (16 per cent). Over the past year, the number of children receiving support in the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Approach has increased by 54 per cent.

The wait times for children to access NDIS supports have significantly decreased. Access decisions are now being made on average within six days for children, which is seven times faster than 12 months ago. The time to obtain a first plan has also significantly reduced by
67 per cent for children. This reduction is important for children as getting support early reduces the impact of their development delays or disability.

The Agency has commenced a review of the implementation of the ECEI Approach to ensure it is based on best practice and is family centred.

Enhanced planning to better respond to the episodic nature of psychosocial disability

In 2019–20, the NDIA continued to roll out improvements for people with a psychosocial disability nationally. This includes embedding processes for streamlined access into everyday practices, the development and sharing of key documents to support access decisions, delivering training and education regarding NDIS access requirements to the mental health sector, and the addition of a new support item called ‘psychosocial recovery coach’ in the NDIS Price Guide from July 2020. Indicative of this focus, as at 30 June 2020, 37,795 participants had a psychosocial disability, an increase of 50 per cent on last year.

In addition, a commitment from Disability Ministers to improve access and experiences for participants with a psychosocial disability was announced following the 9 October 2019 meeting. The NDIA, together with DSS, and state and territory health department representatives, have established project teams and have commenced working collaboratively on the following key initiatives to be delivered in 2021:

  • undertaking a joint examination of access and eligibility
  • improving linkages and referral to mental health supports for people not eligible for the NDIS
  • implementing a psychosocial disability recovery approach
  • implementing a national approach to concurrent supports.

Younger people with disability in residential aged care

The Agency is reducing the number of younger people with disability in residential aged care by helping them access more age-appropriate housing and supported living options.

Over the past year, the number of younger people in residential aged care with a plan has increased by four per cent from 3,554 to 3,690. Since 1 July 2016, 377 participants who entered the Scheme in residential aged care have exited to a more appropriate accommodation setting. There also are fewer younger people entering aged care compared to previous years. Currently, 127, or three per cent, of participants in residential aged care are under the age of 45, with the overwhelming majority aged between 55 and 64.

A Joint Agency Taskforce has been formed between the DSS, the Department of Health and the NDIA to develop a new strategy that builds on the Younger People in Residential Aged Care Action Plan. The new strategy will ensure:

  • no people under the age of 65 entering residential aged care by 2022
  • no people under the age of 45 living in residential aged care by 2022
  • no people under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025.

Improved participant economic outcomes

In addition to improving community and social participation rates for participants, the NDIA continued to deliver on key actions and activities aligned to the NDIS Participant Employment Strategy 2019–2022. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on the labour market and broader economic conditions, the Agency remains focused on seizing opportunities arising due to changing work practices and supporting NDIS participants to achieve their employment goals. Key initiatives in 2019–20 included:

  • joining the Collaborative Partnership, a Commonwealth–led collaboration between the public, private and not–for–profit sectors aimed at improving work participation and return to work success for people with disability or injury
  • engaging with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to develop the next iteration of the APS Disability Employment Strategy, with a particular focus on the engagement of Scheme participants in APS roles
  • commencing research into the roles of the NDIS, participants and parents/guardians in supporting NDIS participants to gain and remain in paid employment. The research will deliver informed, evidence-based tools for decision-making that can be piloted and tested by the NDIS
  • working with DSS to improve the interfaces between the Scheme and mainstream employment supports, including the Disability Employment Services program.

The NDIA is also supporting the evolution of supported employment. In July 2020, the NDIA introduced new pricing for supports in employment to give participants greater choice and control about where and how they work and who provides their supports, as well as creating new opportunities for providers.

Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC)

The ILC grants program continues to support organisations to build a more inclusive, accessible and connected Australia.

In 2019–20 ILC grants were provided to 198 organisations across the country, with an overall total value of $237.8 million awarded. The four grant rounds delivered the following funding to organisations across Australia:

  • National Information Program: $65 million was awarded to 37 organisations for projects that increase the accessibility, quality and consistency of information available to people with disability.
  • Individual Capacity Building: $105 million was awarded to 105 organisations for projects that will enable systematic nationwide access to peer support, mentoring and other skills-building activities.
  • Economic and Community Participation: $32.7 million was awarded to 28 organisations for projects that will provide meaningful pathways to employment for people with disability.
  • Mainstream Capacity Building: $35.1 million was awarded to 28 organisations for projects that will enable people with disability to benefit from the same mainstream health services as everyone else.

The activities delivered by the grant-funded organisations complement the work of the Partners in the Community Program (PiTC) to connect people with disability, their families and carers with the information they need to connect to their local community and mainstream services.

In reviewing the broad picture of support for the 4.4 million Australians who have disability, the Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, and the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, agreed that the administration of the grants component of the ILC will be transitioned from the NDIA to the DSS in 2020–21. This change will help ensure the ILC grants program is closely aligned with the new National Disability Strategy, a joint priority for all governments. The ILC appropriation will remain unchanged.

A competitive market

The NDIA continues to help develop and grow a market that reliably supplies quality and innovative supports to meet participant needs and goals. The NDIA recognises it has an important shared role as market steward in the disability support services marketplace to ensure participants are able to access the supports and services they need. The NDIA’s market stewardship role includes monitoring, evaluation, oversight and, where necessary, intervention.

In 2019–20, the NDIA invested in the development of the NDIS market through continued work with service providers to address key and emerging areas for improvement. Through market engagement activities, market analysis and strategic communications to drive market responses, the NDIA implemented a number of initiatives to improve the participant and provider experience.

Revisions to pricing

Prices are set to ensure the availability of supply for the benefit of participants. To ensure participants can better utilise their NDIS plans, the NDIA is committed to building market confidence by encouraging market development, particularly in thin markets.

While the longer–term goal of the NDIA is to deregulate prices for disability supports, this has not so far been possible given the rapid growth of the market and current areas of immaturity. Over the past year, the NDIA has continued to monitor and adjust pricing in accordance with market changes.

Annual Price Review

The NDIA completed the Annual Price Review for 2020–21 in consultation with participants, providers and the wider disability sector. The review examined NDIS price limits and related policies to ensure they continue to be appropriate to the market and to understand where changes may be required.

Recommendations from the Annual Price Review are reflected in changes to the NDIS Price Guide 2020–21. Key updates effective 1 July 2020 included:

  • amending the Disability Support Worker Cost Model to better reflect the cost structures of efficient providers
  • reducing Temporary Transformation Payment (TTP) from 7.5 per cent to six per cent
  • clarifying definitions for high intensity support levels one to three and time of day and day of week
  • retaining the cancellation rule regarding claiming 100 per cent rather than 90 per cent
  • making more providers eligible to charge an establishment fee to assist with one-off costs such as assessing a participant’s needs
  • making plan managers eligible to claim provider travel and non–face–to-face supports.

Activity-based transport

In March 2020, changes were made to the NDIS pricing arrangements so that providers of community participation supports can, at the request of a participant, transport a participant to or from a community participation support. In these cases, the provider is entitled, if the participant agrees, to bill the participant’s plan for the time support workers spend providing transport as part of the community participation support. They are also entitled to bill for any associated non-labour costs.

Specialist disability accommodation

Reforms to specialist disability accommodation (SDA) are further strengthening and improving the market, providing investors with the confidence to deliver varied and innovative housing for participants eligible for SDA. Major initiatives are driving a rapid increase in the SDA market, with a 37.5 per cent growth in the year to June 2019 in enrolled dwellings, and 150 per cent growth in new SDA builds.

In October 2019, the NDIA released three major initiatives to support growth, innovation and sustainability in the SDA market.

The release of the SDA Design Standard brings clarity for providers on home design requirements and guidelines to seek pre–certification for the enrolment of a dwelling as SDA, at both the planning and final-as-built stages. The SDA Design Standard is based on four categories of SDA design, as outlined in the SDA Rules—Improved Liveability, Robust, Fully Accessible, and High Physical Support—and will be incorporated into newly built dwellings.

The SDA Innovation Plan was developed with input from participants and other stakeholders to identify and promote innovative SDA options, and is based on three key pillars: design in partnership, participants and their community, and promote the leading edge. The Innovation Plan will look to promote and enable the availability of innovative accommodation and ensure the flexibility to discover new and better ways to provide SDA. The NDIA will be undertaking activities throughout 2020 and into 2021 to encourage innovation in SDA and support models.

Commencing in April 2019, the SDA Limited Cost Assumptions Review was finalised and published on the NDIS website in October 2019. The review recommended a number of price limit increases for certain SDA categories and locations, to encourage investment in a diverse range of dwellings and to improve the choice of living options for participants eligible for SDA.

In addition, in June 2020, the Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, signed significant updates to the NDIS SDA Rules 2020. The changes have removed previous requirements that prevented some dwelling configurations that are commonly suitable for families from being enrolled as SDA. Eligible participants may also now share their SDA bedroom with a partner, provided this does not present an unacceptable risk to their safety. Under the new SDA Rules, the Agency will take full responsibility for enrolling SDA dwellings.

Figure 2.2.3F: Number of enrolled dwellings (excluding in–kind)

 30 June 2017, 497; 30 September 2017, 764; 31 December 2017, 1,135; 31 March 2018, 1,311; 30 June 2018, 1,697; 30 September 2018, 2,243; 31 December 2018, 2,593; 31 March 2019, 2,896; 30 June 2019, 3,170; 30 September 2019; 3,489, 31 December 2019, 3,938; 31 March 20, 4,123; and 30 June 2020, 4,360.

Digital Partnership Program

On 30 June 2020, the Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, announced the next phase of the Digital Partnership Program to improve the digital experience for NDIS participants and providers. The program manages controlled and secure access to some of the Agency’s data and systems, with the latest phase expanding access to the Agency’s application programming interfaces (APIs) to more software developers working with registered providers.

The APIs are being created so providers and software developers can build new tools, applications and digital marketplaces to improve how participants, providers and the NDIA all connect and work together. The next phase gives more software developers who are working with registered NDIS providers the ability to request access to the NDIA’s APIs, creating more opportunities for digital experts to develop new tools and applications.

Utilisation

For support provided between 1 October 2019 and 31 March 2020, data at 30 June 2020 indicated that 70 per cent of support had been utilised nationally. Experience in other schemes with individual budgets (internationally and in Australia) indicates that plan utilisation is unlikely to be 100 per cent. However, for some participants utilisation should be higher than the current level.

The two biggest drivers of utilisation are:

  • whether a participant is in supported independent living
  • how long a participant has been in the Scheme (the longer they have been in the Scheme, the more they utilise their plan).

Figure 2.2.3G: Utilisation of committed supports by SIL status from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020

 National, 70 per cent (purple coloured bar); SIL, 85 per cent (first pink coloured bar) and Non-SIL, 62 per cent (second pink coloured bar).

Figure 2.2.3H: Utilisation of committed supports by plan number from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020

 National, 70 per cent; 1, 54 per cent; 2, 65 per cent; 3, 70 per cent; 4, 75 per cent; 5 plus, 79 per cent.

A detailed analysis of utilisation and market concentration by region is provided in the June 2020 Quarterly Report to Disability Ministers.

Thin markets

Supported by the NDIA Board and management, the December 2019 meeting of Disability Ministers agreed to use a more flexible approach to address market challenges in the Scheme, recognising that a one-size-fits-all approach to delivering the NDIS is not suitable to address market gaps faced by certain geographic locations, particular cohorts and disability support types.

In collaboration with the rollout plan being developed by DSS, the Agency is developing a market commissioning strategy to support a flexible approach to addressing market challenges. The strategy will be refined through a series of trial projects in all jurisdictions. These trials have been agreed with state and territory governments and are on track for delivery in the second half of 2020. They will collect evidential insights and test the Agency’s approach to market challenges.

A connected and engaged stakeholder sector

The disability sector and community are integral to the success of the NDIS. The Agency continued to build and maintain collaborative partnerships with the Scheme’s stakeholders, including participants, their families, carers, providers, the disability sector, the community, the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. These partnerships continue to inform the delivery of the Scheme.

In 2019–20, the Agency continued to collaborate with state and territory governments to manage Scheme transition and resolve outstanding policy issues. The NDIA worked closely with Victoria (Vic), Queensland (Qld) and Tasmania (Tas) to prepare for their expected transition to Full Scheme on 1 July 2020, and with Western Australia (WA) to ensure the complete transition of WA NDIS clients to the national Scheme. The Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, increased the frequency of Disability Reform Council meetings to quarterly between July 2019 and March 2020, resulting in significant progress on mainstream interface policy issues, including clarifying responsibilities for:

  • disability-related health supports
  • supports for participants with psychosocial disabilities and those in justice settings
  • respite supports for children in statutory care and children in voluntary out of home care arrangements.

Independent Advisory Council

The IAC was established in 2013 through the NDIS Act to bring the views of participants, carers and experts to the heart of the NDIS. The IAC provides the Board with independent advice, which the Board must consider when performing its duties. The IAC met 11 times in the past 12 months.

During 2020, the IAC completed important work. This included the paper on Early Childhood Early Intervention that has been vital in shaping the Agency’s ECEI Strategy Reset Project; the Participants who are Parents paper; and advice on support for decision-making. In addition, the IAC played a critical role in providing timely advice on COVID-19, which helped shape the Agency’s response.

Reference groups

The NDIA has a number of reference groups, advisory groups and small working groups drawn from stakeholders who provide advice to the Agency on the design, development and implementation of aspects of the Scheme. These groups have clear terms of reference and deliverables linked to the NDIA Corporate Plan. Current reference groups include:

  • Autism Advisory Group (AAG)
  • CEO Forum
  • Industry Reference Group (IRG)
  • National Mental Health Sector Reference Group (NMHSRG)
  • Participant Reference Group (PRG)
  • Pricing Reference Group
  • Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) Reference Group.

Autism Advisory Group

The AAG was established to provide a strong voice on behalf of people with autism who are participating in the Scheme. It comprises autism experts, service providers and people with lived experience of autism. The AAG met five times in the past 12 months.

CEO Forum

The NDIS CEO Forum continued to be a platform for the disability sector to engage, discuss and collaborate directly with the Agency on important areas of work relating to the operation and implementation of the NDIS. Membership consisted of 24 CEOs from national peak and advocacy organisations. The CEO Forum met five times in the past 12 months.

Industry Reference Group

The IRG advises on improvements to the Scheme that will support development of a competitive market of innovative supports and services and help empower participants to achieve their goals in inclusive communities and workplaces.

The IRG has provided feedback to the Agency on a number of projects, including the NDIA Research and Evaluation Strategy, participant employment strategies, the assistive technology policy, and invaluable insights into the trends and measures taken in the disability sector. The group also provided feedback on Agency initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Industry Reference Group met five times in the past 12 months.

National Mental Health Sector Reference Group

The NMHSRG was established to develop a strong working partnership between the mental health sector and the Agency. Its membership consists of consumers, carers, representatives from peak associations, IAC members and key government representatives, including mental health commissioners. The NMHSRG met four times in the past 12 months.

Participant Reference Group

The PRG provides feedback on the Agency’s work on NDIS pathways and input to the continuous improvement of participant pathways—the processes by which participants, their families and carers interact with the Scheme. The group comprises participants and carers from around Australia who have lived experience with disability. The PRG met seven times in the past 12 months.

Pricing Reference Group

The Pricing Reference Group was established in 2018 in response to the Independent Pricing Review. It provides advice to the Board through the CEO. Through the Pricing Reference Group, the Agency has a formal process to review NDIS pricing arrangements, conduct robust market reviews and determine how to consult and engage with sector stakeholders. This process includes evaluation and endorsement of the Annual Price Review outcomes.

During 2019–20, the Pricing Reference Group provided advice on the pricing arrangements for supports in employment, individualised living options, hearing supports, psychosocial recovery coaches, supported independent living and specialist disability accommodation. The Pricing Reference Group met eight times in the past 12 months.

Specialist Disability Accommodation Reference Group

The SDA Reference Group was established in March 2019 to support the development of the SDA market, increase choice and control for participants, and ensure the long-term viability of SDA investments under the Scheme. The creation of this group demonstrates the Agency’s commitment to the sustainability of the SDA market and improving the participant experience.

Throughout 2019–20 the SDA Reference Group provided advice on key programs and improvements such as design standards, operational guidelines, the SDA Innovation Plan, medium-term accommodation and amendments to the SDA Rules and Pricing released in July 2020. The SDA Reference Group met six times in the past 12 months.

Sector sentiment and satisfaction

The Agency continued to closely monitor sector sentiment and satisfaction to inform our partnerships and to help inform our approach going forward. The NDIA stakeholder sentiment survey of leaders from key stakeholder organisations was conducted in February 2020. The average rating of the experience of interacting with the Agency has increased to 5.89 out of 10, compared to 5.28 in November 2018 and 5.23 in July 2019, exceeding the 2019–20 target of 5.5.

Participant engagement model

The Agency recognises the important role participants, their families and carers play in identifying opportunities for service improvement and working collaboratively with the Agency on the design and implementation of policy and service improvement projects.

The new Participant First Engagement Model was launched in May 2020. Using this model, Agency business teams engage directly with participants, drawing on their experiences and expertise to support a range of policy and service improvements.

In 2019–20, participants collaborated with the Agency to ensure that the design and outcomes of a number of initiatives met the expectations of participants, the Agency and government. These included the future role of LACs, self-management resources, the NDIS portal refresh, assistive technology and home modification, and plan goals and attainment.

A financially sustainable scheme

Scheme costs

Scheme projections are in line with the estimates shown in the 2017 Productivity Commission report on NDIS costs at 2021–22, after allowing for costs not included in the Productivity Commission estimate, such as the introduction of school transport, personal care in schools, developmental delay and the incomplete implementation of the National Injury Insurance Scheme.

Table 2.2.3A: Committed supports ($m) and payments

2013–14

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Active participants

7,285

17,155

29,719

89,610

172,333

286,015

391,999

Total committed ($m)

132.7

496.7

939.1

3,234.4

7,741.0

14,567.7

24,163.9

Total paid ($m)

85.8

370.9

704.3

2,184.5

5,423.7

10,247.4

16,114.9*

% utilised to date

65%

75%

75%

68%

70%

71%

*This number reflects payments made during the 2019-20 year for support provided in the 2019-20 year and differs from the amount in the annual financial statements. This number will progressively increase and will be re-stated in subsequent quarterly reports to reflect payments made for supports provided in 2019-20 post 30 June 2020.

Addressing Scheme pressures

Pressures on the Scheme have been identified and are being responsibly managed. The drivers of costs to the NDIS include the number of participants, the amount of support allocated to each plan, how that allocated amount will change over time, the utilisation of individual supports, and the rate at which participants exit the Scheme.

It is the responsibility of the NDIA to monitor primary pressures, detect any associated risks and manage them appropriately, using the insurance-based structure as a means of evaluating emerging experience against expectations.

The current primary financial pressures relate to the average cost of supports for participants in SIL, increasing support costs for participants not in SIL, and the interfaces and boundaries with mainstream services and community and informal supports.

Figure 2.2.3I: Average annualised payments per participant by quarter – SIL participants

 Quarter 1 (Q1) 2018–19, dollars 233,000; Quarter 2 (Q2) 2018–19, dollars 236,000; Quarter 3 (Q3) 2018–19, dollars 247,000; Quarter 4 (Q4) 2018–19, dollars 258,000; Q1 2019–20, dollars 278,000; Q2 2019–20, dollars 287,000; Q3 2019¬–20, dollars 305,000; and Q4 2019–20, dollars 325,000. The bar graph also shows there was a 39 point 5 per cent increase in seven quarters

Figure 2.2.3J:Average annualised payments per participant by quarter – non–SIL participants

 Quarter 1 (Q1) 2018–19, dollars 25,000; Quarter 2 (Q2) 2018–19, dollars 26,000; Quarter 3 (Q3) 2018–19, dollars 25,900; Quarter 4 (Q4) 2018–19, dollars 28,600; Q1 2019–20, dollars 33,000; Q2 2019–20, dollars 32,700; Q3 2019–20, dollars 32,000; Q4 2019–20, dollars 34,900. The graph also shows there was a 39 point 6 per cent increase in seven quarters.

Specific and appropriate management responses are being developed to address the primary sustainability and equity pressures. The NDIA is also working on improving consistency and equity in both access and planning decisions across all participants.

The NDIA is implementing a package of NDIS reforms, including the implementation of the Government’s Response to the 2019 Review of the NDIS Act (Tune Review) and the new NDIS Participant Service Guarantee. As part of this work the NDIA will introduce independent assessments to help better align a participant’s support package with their circumstances. Independent assessments will ensure participants receive the right funding, as their plan budget will be matched to their level of functional capacity and environmental context.

The NDIA has been working on a policy to reform SIL. The NDIA is conducting a review of SIL price controls, and new SIL-specific price limits will be included in an updated NDIS Price Guide released later in 2020. Until this review is complete the price limits for assistance with daily living will apply to SIL supports. The assistance with daily living price limits have been in effect from 1 July 2020 for SIL supports, and these will also be applied to any open SIL quotes awaiting approval. Changes will be made incrementally to SIL to give participants and their families greater input, as well as more choice and control as to how their SIL supports are provided, and greater oversight of their roster of care. Changes will also be made to simplify plans and budgets.

In addition, the NDIA is looking at more contemporary options for people who require a high level of support. Traditionally, group homes, congregate living and SIL are commonly seen as living arrangement solutions for people with a disability who have a high need for ongoing care. However, a number of alternative accommodation options have emerged, termed contemporary individual living options (ILOs). These ILOs have the potential to create a more tailored solution to care and support needs for the subset of Scheme participants with higher needs. Further, ILOs help to increase choice and control for participants and improve outcomes.

A high–performing NDIA

The NDIA aspires to be a high-performing service delivery organisation with the people, capabilities and systems to deliver operational goals, in a participant-centric way.

Workforce

The NDIA has continued to grow its workforce to meet the needs of participants, their families and carers. At 30 June 2020, the total NDIS workforce was 11,550, including 4,396 APS employees, 1,692 labour hire contractors and consultants, and 5,462 people employed by NDIA’s partners. This is an increase of 4.4 per cent of the total workforce (including NDIA partners) since the end of the 2018–19 financial year (total workforce increase of 489).

The NDIA is committed to its goal to be an employer of choice, especially for people with disability, and to create a safe and inclusive environment that keeps its people engaged and committed. The percentage of employees identifying as having a disability was 11.1 per cent in 2019–20, well above the 2019 APS average of 3.7 per cent, but below the Agency’s target of
15 per cent. In addition, the Agency recognises the importance of supporting woman in leadership positions. Women hold 51 per cent of senior leadership roles in the Agency, representing a one per cent increase on last year.

Engaged and capable NDIA

The Agency continued to build the capability of staff to support high-quality service delivery to participants, their families and carers through improved training. The Agency implemented the following learning and development initiatives to increase the capability of its workforce:

  • foundational skills development
  • Graduate Development Program
  • service delivery training
  • leadership and management development
  • joint planning meeting workshops for planners and partners.

Approximately 1,100 planners and LACs participated in the New Starter Induction program during the year.

There was high engagement with the NDIA Just Brilliant Leadership Series, which has helped increase frontline leadership capability. In 2019–20, 5,034 staff commenced the Learning to Lead program (aimed at entry-level team leaders), and 289 commenced the Leadership Excellence program (aimed at senior-level leaders). The satisfaction rating for the leadership programs was 96 per cent.

In addition, the NDIA collaborated with the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia, and disability peak bodies to raise disability awareness among staff and help improve the participant experience. A suite of learning resources, including a disability navigator containing 12 participant videos, were developed for staff. These modules included a focus on contemporary disability rights; family and gender-based violence prevention; mental health recovery and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness; LGBTIQA+ and CALD communities.

Results from the Agency’s Pulse survey showed the Agency Engagement Index increased by four per cent to 80 per cent, from the 2019 APS Census result of 76 per cent, illustrating that the workforce is engaged and committed. On 2 March 2020, the NDIA implemented a new organisational structure to reduce internal complexity and to allow the Agency to increase the speed of response for participants.

The NDIA’s Enterprise Agreement 2016–2019 nominally expired on 28 February 2020. Prior to this, bargaining with nominated representatives had commenced. Through extensive consultation a new NDIA Enterprise Agreement with supporting policies and procedures was developed and presented to staff for their consideration. A resounding ‘yes’ vote was recorded and the new NDIA Enterprise Agreement 2020–2023 was certified by the Fair Work Commission on 17 April 2020.

Work health and safety

The Agency’s work health and safety management system saw significant improvements, indicating a maturing organisation. As at 30 June 2020, the ‘lost time injury frequency rate’ (the number of lost time injuries that occurred during 2019–20, relative to the total number of hours worked in that period), was 2.11, which is the lowest in the Agency’s history. There were improved safety communications, capability, leadership and compliance across the system, with positive results across performance metrics.

The Agency’s National Health and Safety Committee refreshed its membership and increased the frequency of meetings to reflect the fast pace of change and safety improvements requiring consultation and endorsement. The Agency implemented new Local Safety and Consultation Committees in every state and territory, providing a robust governance framework for work health and safety consultation and communication. In addition, a work health and safety assurance program was developed to support assessment of compliance with the system.

Supporting mental health and wellbeing at work is a strong focus of the Agency. In 2019–20, the Agency implemented a new 12 month Mental Health and Wellbeing Action Plan to ensure that effective education, supports, pathways to care, risk management and controls are implemented in promoting health and wellbeing.

In response to the COVID–19 pandemic, the Agency stood up the Emergency Response and Recovery Committee. The Agency developed information, guidelines and toolkits to ensure the safety of its workers, and mobilised a contingency workforce to support safe and effective service delivery. As at 30 June 2020, there was no workplace transmission of COVID–19 in the Agency. The Agency was able to quickly and safely transition over 4,000 members of the workforce to working from home arrangements. Flexible working arrangements continue to be supported, where possible.

NDIS website

The NDIS website is one of the Agency’s key communication channels, with an average of over 1.5 million page views per month. The website was a vital communication tool during the January 2020 bushfires and COVID–19 pandemic, enabling the Agency to communicate quickly and effectively with participants, their families and carers. In April 2020, the website had almost 500,000 visitors and more than 2 million page views.

The website continues to evolve. In 2019–20, a live webchat function was introduced to provide an additional way to contact the Agency, and a new Easy Read section about finding, keeping and changing jobs provided information to participants in a simplified and easy to understand format.

Video

NDIS video content continues to play an important role in supporting participants, families, carers and providers through their NDIS journey and in educating the Australian community about the Scheme. In the past 12 months, the Agency produced 38 animated videos, playing a key role in assisting participants to navigate the Scheme. In addition, the Agency released 44 videos, highlighting the stories of participants and providers, and the positive impact the Scheme has had on their lives. As part of the Agency’s COVID–19 response, 17 animations and seven Auslan videos were released to help participants navigate the complex pandemic environment, and the Agency’s response.

Webinars

NDIS webinars on employment (‘Let’s talk about work’, February 2019), assistive technology (‘Wheelchairs, aids and devices’, June 2019), Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (‘Getting your ILC grant pitch right’, August 2019) and planning (‘How to get the most out of your NDIS plan’, November 2019) each had over 2,000 people register to watch live, with thousands more viewing the recorded versions published on the NDIS website. Viewers were able to ask questions in real time and hear responses from experts.

Campaigns

The NDIS rolled out a campaign in Queensland in November 2019 to encourage new participants to join the Scheme, with a focus on people with disability from CALD backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural and remote communities. It used in–language radio, Radio Print Handicapped, social media and closed–circuit television advisements in doctors’ waiting rooms. The campaign contributed to an increased number of access requests from Queensland in mid-January 2020.

Recognising the importance of leading the way with accessible communications, the NDIS activated an internal Agency campaign from November 2019 to March 2020 to give staff and partners a better understanding of what accessibility is, why it is important and how to make communications accessible.

Efficient and effective processes and systems

In 2019–20 the Agency continued working to improve its systems, processes, data management and people capabilities to deliver the Scheme effectively.

NDIA National Contact Centre

The NDIA National Contact Centre (NCC) delivers personal and high–quality contact services about the NDIS for people with disability, their family and carers, service providers and organisations.

The NCC service has been delivered since June 2018 by Serco Citizen Services Pty Ltd (Serco), who operate from Dandenong and Newborough in Victoria.

Under the contract with Serco, services are delivered for the NDIA according to an agreed performance framework. The performance framework includes a grade of service of
80 per cent of inbound calls answered within 60 seconds and email enquiries progressed within two business days. Over the past 12 months, Serco has provided a consistently high level of service, with an inbound call average speed of answer of 27 seconds. Figure 2.2.3K shows the sustained telephony performance since transition to Serco as Contact Centre service provider.

In addition to answering phones, the NCC has increased the amount of processing work it now does on behalf of the NDIA. Over the past 12 months, NCC has responded to an average of 70,000 emails per month, with 99.5 per cent of these progressed within the two business day key performance indicator.

The NCC commenced a live webchat service in December 2019, providing a new communication channel option for participants, carers, providers and the public. In March 2020, the webchat service was further enhanced to allow NCC staff to answer more individualised enquiries. The NCC averages over 2,700 webchat requests per month with 98 per cent of chats responded to within 10 seconds.

Figure 2.2.2K: National Contact Centre telephony performance July 2018 to June 2020

Figure 2.2.3K is a bar and line graph. The legend shows the abandon call percentage, as solid blue/green bars, and has a line graph, in orange, showing the average speed of answer across the top of the bars. The horizontal axis has month and year from July 2018 to June 2020. The vertical axis, on the left, shows percentage of abandon calls and goes from, from 0.0 per cent to 2.5 percent with increments of 0.5. The vertical axis, on the right, shows Average Speed of Answer, time in seconds, and goes from 0:00 seconds to 1:00 minute, with increments of 0:15 seconds.

Information and communications technology (ICT) systems

The August 2018 Board meeting endorsed the ICT Strategy, recommending that the Agency retain both the SAP CRM platform and Services Australia as the Agency’s ICT delivery partner. This recommendation was modified at the June 2019 ICT Committee, with the decision being taken to adopt a parallel multi-vendor delivery approach for ‘non-core’ business functions. The strategy will assist the Agency to meet its Corporate Plan 2020–2024 objectives and continue the underlying business strategies that have helped to deliver high-quality outcomes for participants.

This has resulted in what has become the Alternative Cloud Environment strategy. The Alternative Cloud Environment platform and associated multi-vendor delivery strategy will provide more accessible, functional technology to support participants. The first cloud-based service supporting joint planning went live in May. This has allowed participant appointments to be coordinated across the Agency and partner organisations.

Participant research identified that mobile capability was the priority for participants. A participant mobile app is under development with a controlled pilot (250 participants). The app will enable participants to easily review their available budget, make claims and store receipts if required.

A project to refresh the NDIS participant web portal solution was progressed in 2019–20, with initial design concepts being tested by participant volunteers. The objective of this activity is to agree on a firm starting point for broader testing with participants and advocacy groups following availability of the Alternative Cloud Environment platform.

The Agency has continued to keep existing ICT systems fully functional, as well as deploying new capability to support the Agency’s COVID–19 pandemic response. Both the external–facing systems and the internal staff system are achieving their performance targets and have been consistently meeting these targets since November 2018. Staff, partners, participants and providers are experiencing faster system response times than ever. This is despite introducing more functionality to the systems, as well as the significant increase in numbers of participants, providers and staff using them over the period.

We continue to closely monitor performance and develop improvements to ensure that the Agency’s ICT systems maintain their effectiveness as the Scheme continues to scale up during rollout.

 NDIS participant Angela Braido, who has hypermobility and a mild intellectual disability, discovered basketball through an NDIS-funded community activity called 'Try a sport', aimed at helping her engage in social activities. Angela has since won a gold medal and the 'Special Olympics Greater Canberra Female Athlete of the Year' award.

Protective security

The Australian Government provides mandated requirements and advice for corporate Commonwealth entities about their security requirements via the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF) and Information Security Manual. New PSPF arrangements came into effect on 1 July 2018.

The Agency has established close working relationships with Services Australia, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Taxation Office regarding the safety and security of our staff around Australia. The Agency is currently finalising a project to enhance the physical and electronic security of 51 service delivery sites.

The Agency uses Services Australia as its ICT shared service provider. Services Australia has established an ‘Essential Eight’ uplift program designed to reduce cyber risk. The Essential Eight is a set of proven mitigation strategies for reducing cyber risk across many enterprises. The Agency is represented on the program’s steering committee. Our cybersecurity specialists are working with Services Australia to ensure that the Agency’s maturity targets are achieved as agreed.

The Agency’s cybersecurity team notes that we are operating at an increased level of cyber risk due to the COVID–19 pandemic. Work to support the Agency’s response to the COVID–19 pandemic includes intelligence reporting to the Executive Leadership Team to ensure we continue to provide up-to-date security advice regarding risks, trends and threats, to inform decision-making and mitigate risk.