Including Specific Types of Supports in Plans Operational Guideline - Assistance Animals

14. Assistance Animals

The NDIA has used many reports to inform its definitions, including the La Trobe University report ‘Key terms for animals in disability assistance roles (DOCX)’.

14.1 Definitions of terms

Assistance Animal is an animal that is trained to perform at least three tasks or behaviours that reduce the functional impacts of a person’s impairment and is assessed by an authorised body for public access.

  • Dog Guide - is a type of assistance animal that is specifically trained to support people with vision impairment or blindness. The terms Guide Dog and Seeing Eye Dog are brands of dog guides.
  • Companion animal - is generally an animal kept for companionship or pleasure and otherwise known as a pet.
  • Emotional support animal - is an animal that provides informal support for a person with a diagnosed mental illness or condition.
  • Facility animal - is an animal that is trained to work in a specific facility or type of facility, like a residential aged care home. The animal may or may not live on-site.
  • Medical alert animal - an example of a medical alert animal is an epilepsy seizure dog. Epilepsy seizure dogs are intended to assist a person having a seizure by alerting the caregiver to the seizure, by moving in a way to protect the person having a seizure, or by activating an alarm.
  • Therapy animal - is an animal that takes part in therapy interventions that are led by a qualified allied health professional.
  • Visitation animal - is an animal belonging to a volunteer, who trains the animal to visit residential, health, or educational facilities, to bring enjoyment to the clients or students.

Animals that don’t fit the definition of ‘assistance animal’ or ‘dog guide’ are unlikely to meet NDIS funding criteria. This is explained in more detail later in this operational guideline. 

Other key definitions for this operational guideline are:

  • Functional outcomes - are measurable results linked with how well a person is able to perform specific tasks.
  • Mechanical restraint - is the use of a device to prevent or limit a person’s movement for the main purpose of controlling their behaviour.  Mechanical restraint is a type of restrictive practice.
  • Primary handler - is the person responsible for the control, care and wellbeing of the animal.
  • Public Access Test - is a test which an animal must pass to be considered safe and effective in accessing public places and public transport. This test varies across states and territories. Generally, this test should be conducted by an unbiased, independent assessor.
  • NDIS Participant assistance animal provider - is a provider demonstrating all the requirements to be registered with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (the ‘Commission’). Generally, if a provider is not registered with the Commission they will be registered with the relevant state or territory body.
  • Restrictive practice - refers to any practice or intervention that restricts or limits the rights or freedom of movement of a person with disability. Any proposed restrictive practice requires a behaviour support plan with a clear plan to reduce and eliminate the practice, and appropriate authorisation and consent as required by the state or territory in which the person resides.
  • Suitability assessment - is an independent assessment of a participant’s suitability to receive and use an assistance animal from a NDIS Participant assistance animal provider.  This includes an assessment of the person responsible for the animal (ie. the primary handler), should this not be the participant (e.g. in the case of a child).

14.2 What does the NDIS need to consider when funding Assistance Animal supports?

When funding supports in a participant’s plan, such as assistance animals, the NDIA has to consider whether the support meets all of the general criteria for supports and  reasonable and necessary criteria  (see Section 34 of the NDIS Act and Section 10 of the Planning Operational Guideline).

What supports will the NDIS fund?

When funding an assistance animal, funded supports include the following:

  • a suitable and qualified animal, inclusive of associated participant assessment and provider incurred animal training costs; and
  • costs associated with maintenance of the animal for the working life of the animal.   

What evidence do I need to provide?

The NDIA needs evidence in writing with input from all of the following:

  • an NDIS Participant assistance animal provider;
  • allied health professionals; and
  • the participant.

Information from other professionals, such as a doctor, may also be provided where relevant to the assistance animal request.

What format do I use to provide the evidence?

The NDIA needs the information outlined in the next sections (12.3 and 12.4) to be provided in a report. The ‘NDIS Assistance Animal Assessment Template (DOCX)’ is available as the NDIA’s preferred format to help assessors and participants to provide the required information. 

14.3 How to meet Part 5 of the Supports for Participants Rules?

Before funding a support, the NDIA must make sure all the criteria in Part 5 of the ‘Supports for Participants’ Rules are met.  Specific considerations for Rule 5.1(a) and 5.3(a) are set out below.

A support will not be provided or funded under the NDIS if it is likely to cause harm to the participant or pose a risk to others (Rule 5.1(a))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • ability of the primary handler to control, care for and maintain the wellbeing of an assistance animal. This includes the evidence that the property where the assistance animal will live is suitable;
  • the assistance animal will not cause health risks to the participant and others living in the property (e.g. allergies);
  • where the assistance animal will support the participant at school, the NDIA needs:
    • evidence the school will allow the animal;
    • information on who the primary handler in the school will be and the training they will receive;
    • information on how student interaction with the animal will be managed, so as to ensure the safety of both students and the animal; and
    • the assistance animal will not cause health risks to others in the school.

Generally, the NDIA will not fund assistance animals where:

  • there is risk to the wellbeing and safety of the assistance animal; 
    • in performing its tasks. This may include lifting or pulling items that are too heavy, or unrealistic expectations (e.g. guiding an electric wheelchair); 
    • where a participant has behaviours of concern, such as aggressive or violent behaviour;
    • where a participant has hospital admission(s) for suicide attempt(s) or self-harm behaviours in the previous 12 months; 
    • where a participant has had drug or alcohol misuse that has not stabilised in the previous 12 months; or
    • due to any other identified risk factors.
  • there is an intention to use the assistance animal as a mechanical restraint (unless there is a behaviour support plan in place);
    • Mechanical restraint includes using the assistance animal to physically stop the participant from moving, or having an animal lie on the participant to prevent behaviours escalating.

Supports which are identified as restrictive practices cannot be funded without a supporting behaviour support plan which has been agreed and approved by the state or territory authority where the participant lives.

Cruelty to animals is against the law in every state and territory.

A support will not be provided or funded under the NDIS where it would be contrary to a law of the Commonwealth or the State or Territory in which the support would be provided (Rule 5.3(a))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • the assistance animal can legally access public spaces and venues required by the participant (i.e. the assistance animal has passed a Public Access Test); and
  • the identity of the person who will be legally responsible for the wellbeing and safety of the assistance animal.

14.4 How to meet section 34 of the NDIS Act?

Before funding a support, the NDIA must make sure all the criteria in section 34 of the NDIS Act 2013 are met. These are known as the reasonable and necessary criteria.

Will the support assist the participant to pursue their goals, objectives and aspirations included in the participant’s statement of goals and aspirations? (Section 34(1)(a))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirm how the assistance animal will assist the participant to work towards and/or achieve their functional goals, objectives and aspirations  identified in their plan.

Example 1. Joe is a 30 year old participant with low vision

Joe has a goal to travel by himself on the train to his new workplace. This goal is identified in his plan. To achieve this goal, he requires support with mobility.

The report to NDIA must outline the above, confirming that Joe possesses the required independent mobility skills to successfully navigate the environment and that the dog guide can provide support with mobility.

Example 2. Mandy is a 45 year old participant with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Mandy has a goal to independently complete her grocery shopping. This goal is identified in her NDIS plan. To do so, she requires a support that enables her to manage her anxiety to a level that enables her to successfully complete her shopping.

The report to NDIA must outline the above and confirm that an assistance animal can provide support with anxiety management.

Example 3. Connor is a 15 year old participant with autism spectrum disorder

Connor and his parents identify the goal of increased engagement at school.  This goal is identified in his NDIS plan. To achieve this, he requires support with regulating his emotions when he becomes overwhelmed.

The report to NDIA must outline the above and confirm that an assistance animal can provide support with emotional regulation.  

Will the support assist the participant to undertake activities, so as to facilitate the participant’s social and economic participation? (Section 34(1)(b))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • the participant’s current level of function and any barriers to social and economic participation; and
  • how the assistance animal will assist in overcoming these barriers.
Example 1. Joe

Joe identifies that he will often need to travel via the train station at peak times, to get to and from work. He needs a support that helps him to overcome the current barrier of negotiating complex environments, with open spaces and large crowds. In open spaces, particularly where there are crowds, Joe reports reduced confidence, unreasonably slow pace, and that he easily becomes disorientated.

Joe has a reasonable level of independent mobility using a long cane.  He has had an trial walk with a dog guide, including during peak time at the train station.

The report to NDIA must outline the functional outcomes of this trial walk and demonstrate how a dog guide will facilitate his economic or social participation, in comparison to not having this support.

Example 2. Mandy

Mandy gets increased anxiety when in busy and crowded places, to a level where she will avoid leaving her house without the support of another person.  Mandy has previously owned an assistance animal, during which time she says she accessed the community more than she has over the past two years, since being without this support.

The report to NDIA must provide an outline from Mandy’s treating therapists of their assessment of her, both with and without the support of an assistance animal, in relation to her access to the community for social and economic participation.

Example 3. Connor

Connor and his parents identify the opportunities school provides him in making friends and developing his social interaction skills.  He requires a support that enables him to display socially appropriate behaviours and engage in social interaction with his peers.

The report to NDIA must outline how an assistance animal can support Connor to manage his emotions to a level that supports his social interactions.

Does the support represent value for money in that the costs of the support are reasonable, relative to both the benefits achieved and the cost of alternate support? (Section 34(1)(c))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • the functional outcomes to be achieved through the use of the assistance animal;
  • the long term benefit of the assistance animal (for example a dog guide is expected to have a working life of approximately 8 years);
  • other supports which may achieve the same outcome, such as assistive technology, therapy supports, a behaviour support plan and/or a self-funded companion animal; and
  • how the assistance animal will reduce the need for other supports and over what time period (e.g. a few months, several years etc.).

An animal can have significant therapeutic benefits for people, including participants. However, the report must explain how the assistance animal will benefit the participant over and above that of a companion animal.

Example 1. Joe

In relation to Joe’s mobility support needs, he and his assessor should first explore the use and effectiveness of a long cane and other orientation and mobility techniques. Upon trial, there should be assessment of whether these alternatives assist him to navigate the train station at a reasonable pace and remain orientated.

The report to NDIA must outline the outcomes of the trial with these lower cost alternatives.

Example 2. Mandy

In relation to Mandy’s anxiety management support needs, she and her assessor should first explore the outcomes of alternative supports, including best-practice, evidence-based interventions, such as clinical mental health supports.

The report to NDIA must outline the best-practice evidence-based interventions Mandy has accessed and the associated outcomes of these supports, including Mandy’s ability to complete her grocery shopping independently.

Example 3. Connor

In relation to Connor’s emotional regulation support needs, his parents and assessor should first explore the outcomes of best-practice, evidence-based interventions, including a multidisciplinary therapy program and a behaviour support plan.

The report to NDIA must outline the best-practice evidence-based interventions Connor has accessed and associated outcomes of these supports.  The report should clearly identify what progress he has made thus far and the expected outcomes of future sessions where applicable.

Will the support be, or likely to be, effective and beneficial for the participant, having regard to current good practice? (Section 34(1)(d))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • best-practice interventions that have been used or trialled and how effective they are; 
  • how the assistance animal will perform at least three tasks that the participant is unable to do; 
  • pre- and post-trial outcome measures and/or lived experience;
  • how the outcomes are a direct result of the assistance animal; 
  • the assistance animal has completed relevant training, and been assessed as suitably qualified as an assistance animal, and 
  • how the assistance animal has been assessed as suitable for the participant.

The NDIA recognises that timely access to best practice early childhood intervention is vital for children to ensure that they achieve the best possible outcomes throughout their life. Using the NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention approach it would be expected that a multidisciplinary team would have worked with each individual child and family prior to requesting funding for an assistance animal.

There is insufficient published and refereed evidence at this time to support the use of epilepsy seizure dogs as an effective and reliable disability support.

Example 1. Joe

Through trial walks with a dog guide, Joe and his assessor note the outcomes the dog guide enables Joe to achieve. Outcomes include better mobility to and from work, including negotiating the train station; increased confidence and capability in negotiating crowded areas; better ability to negotiate open areas without becoming disorientated; and the ability to move at a more comfortable and acceptable pace.  

The report to NDIA must outline these outcomes and how they relate to the achievement of Joe’s goal.   The report must identify how these outcomes compare to those that can be achieved by the lower cost alternatives also trialled

Example 2. Mandy

To confirm that an assistance animal will still help Mandy, a two week trial is conducted. The purpose of the trial is to work out if Mandy is able to better manage her anxiety in public places that are familiar to her and complete her grocery shopping without the support of another person.

Throughout the trial, Mandy and her assessor note the outcomes the assistance animal helps Mandy to achieve.  Outcomes include independently getting to and from the supermarket in a taxi, independence in finding the items from her shopping list in a logical order, ability to stay on task when there are distractions such as loud noises and ability to interact with other customers and staff while shopping.

The report to NDIA must outline these outcomes and how they relate to the achievement of Mandy’s goal.  The report must identify how these outcomes compare to those that can be achieved by alternate support options.

Example 3. Connor

To explore whether an assistance animal will help Connor with emotional regulation, engagement at school and interactions with his peers, a trial should be conducted in the school setting.  This trial should only proceed dependent on the status and outcomes of best-practice evidence-based interventions previously referred to.

The report to NDIA must outline the outcomes of this trial, where this has been considered appropriate to proceed.  The report must identify how these outcomes compare to those that can be achieved by alternate support options.

Does the funding or provision of the support take into account what is reasonable to expect families, carers, informal networks and the community to provide? (Section 34(1)(e))

To meet this criterion, the NDIA needs information and evidence confirming the following:

  • the tasks and supports expected of the assistance animal would not generally be considered parental responsibility;
  • the tasks and supports that would reasonably be provided by family and other household members; and
  • how the assistance animal will provide benefits above that of a companion animal (e.g. pet) that would generally be provided by an individual or their family. 
Example 1. Joe

Prior to consideration of a dog guide, Joe and his assessor must consider whether it would generally be considered a reasonable expectation of others, including family, to regularly support another adult to get to and from work.

The report to NDIA must outline the tasks and supports that would reasonably be provided by family and other household members and evidence that the assistance animal will provide benefits above that of a companion animal.

Example 2. Mandy

Prior to consideration of an assistance animal, Mandy and her assessor must consider whether it would generally be considered a reasonable expectation of others, including family, to regularly support another adult to complete their grocery shopping.

The report to NDIA must outline the tasks and supports that would reasonably be provided by family and other household members and evidence that the assistance animal will provide benefits above that of a companion animal.

Example 3. Connor

Prior to consideration of an assistance animal, Connor’s parents and his assessor must consider the level and frequency of support that a child of Connor’s age would typically require to manage their emotions in the school setting.

The report to NDIA must outline:

  • tasks which would generally be considered parental responsibility; 
  • tasks and supports that would reasonably be provided by family and the school; and
  • evidence that the assistance animal will provide benefits above that of a companion animal.

Is the support most appropriately funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme? (Section 34(1)(f))

Generally, assistance animal supports are most appropriately funded under the NDIS for a participant where all the above criteria have been met.

14.5 Will the NDIS fund maintenance costs?

Where an assistance animal meets all of the reasonable and necessary criteria, the NDIA will generally fund supports related to the ongoing maintenance of the assistance animal.

This may include costs related to:

  • food
  • grooming
  • flea and worm treatments
  • medication
  • vaccinations
  • veterinary services.

14.6 Will the NDIA provide funding to train a dog before it has become a qualified assistance animal?

La Trobe University completed a study 'NDIS participant-trained assistance dogs (DOCX)' in relation to the training of assistance dogs. Based on these findings the NDIA will generally not provide funding for a dog before it has become a qualified assistance animal.

The study found:

  • not all dogs who undertake training go on to successfully qualify as an assistance animal; and 
  • there is no reliable way to predict if a particular dog will successfully qualify as an assistance animal before it has completed its training.

Therefore, it is unlikely the dog will meet the following reasonable and necessary criteria:

  • the support represents value for money, in that the costs of the support are reasonable, relative to both the benefits achieved and the cost of alternate support (34(1)(c));
    As it is not possible to guarantee the dog will successfully complete the training, the value for money criteria will not be met. 
  • the support will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for the participant, having regard to current good practice (34 (1) (d)); or
    As the dog may not complete training the NDIA is unable to state the animal will be beneficial or effective as the dog may not address the participant’s functional impairments.
  • the funding or provision of the support takes into account of what is reasonable to expect families, carers, informal networks and community to provide (34 (1) (e)).
    Funding a dog that has not successfully completed assistance animal training is no different to providing a companion animal (e.g. pet). It is reasonable to expect that individuals/families would self-fund a companion animal. 

Based on this evidence, the NDIS does not provide funding for a participant to train their own dog to be an assistance animal. This also applies if a registered assistance animal provider is engaged to train the dog, as not all dogs go on to successfully qualify as an assistance animal.

For the same reasons, the NDIS does not fund a provider to supply a dog as an NDIS support until they are fully trained and qualified assistance animals.

This page current as of
2 October 2020
Indicates required field
Was this page useful?*
Why?
Why not?