I want to talk to you about why we are introducing independent assessments. I’ll explain the issues we’re addressing with the assessments and where the recommendations for using independent assessments have come from.
An independent assessment is an assessment of your ability to carry out everyday tasks and your individual circumstances. It will build an overall picture of how you function in different areas of your life in a variety of situations, such at home or at work. It also takes into account your environment, like where you live and who you live with. The assessments are conducted by qualified health care professionals and will be used by the NDIS to make decisions about access and planning.
You can read more about independent assessments and have your say on the proposed changes.
Consistent and fairer decisions
What we know now is that the current approach to assessing a person’s functional capacity and providing information to the NDIS is leading to inconsistent and unfair decisions across all participants in the Scheme.
This means that decisions can be influenced by where you live, your ability to describe your circumstances and needs, and even whether English is your first language. For example, the proportion of the population (aged 0-64) receiving NDIS supports differ significantly by State and Territory and don’t match Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) population surveys on disability.
We can also see that participants living in wealthier areas are receiving more funds in their plans, on average, than those who are living in poorer areas.
Payments differ by where you live. Our latest Quarterly Report shows payments are 23 per cent higher in wealthier families for children compared with the poorest, and 13 per cent higher for adults. We are committed to changing this.
We also know that it can be very expensive to undertake the assessments required to gain access to the NDIS, and to give evidence to support reasonable and necessary funding. That probably means that some people who may be eligible for the NDIS haven’t applied because they can’t afford – or don’t know how to get – the assessments needed to support their access request. We know that Australians with disability are currently spending between $130 million and $170 million on assessments associated with accessing the NDIS.
Access to the NDIS, and the level of support you receive, should not be determined or impacted by where you live, how much money you can spend gathering evidence or whether you are in a position to advocate for particular supports or funding levels.
So the advantage of moving to the new approach will mean a level playing field, with free and consistently applied assessments for all Australians wanting to access the NDIS and seek disability related supports resulting in a fairer NDIS for the future.
You can read more about the new budget and planning process and have your say.
This is what we are talking about when we say we want to make the future of the NDIS fairer, consistent and more equitable.
Our approach to independent assessments
The approach we are taking to independent assessments is backed by detailed research and evaluation. The proposed tools have been validated over multiple years in multiple countries, including specifically with people with intellectual disability, as providing a reliable assessment of functional capacity.
How a person’s disability or disabilities impacts their ability to carry out everyday tasks is one of the key factors in determining eligibility for the NDIS under the NDIS Act. We refer to this as functional capacity. This means the ability to be involved in different areas of life like home, school, work and the community and to carry out tasks. It also considers other factors in a person’s environment that may impact their day to day life.
You can read the Assessment Framework and Tools selection papers for further details on why the assessment tools have been chosen.
How this will impact you?
To make sure the independent assessment process is consistent, your assessment can only be done by an allied health professional on the independent assessor panel. Importantly, independent assessors, and the assessment tools do not replace the relationship you have with your doctor or allied health professional.
Your doctor or allied health professional will still be involved in your access request for the NDIS, as they will continue to be responsible for providing important information relating to your disability as part of access requirements.
Introducing independent assessments paid for by the NDIS means new and existing participants have the same opportunity to access assessments, which will provide up-to-date and complete assessment of your functional capacity.
Recommendations for independent assessments
The concept of an independent assessment is not new to the NDIS. The 2011 Productivity Commission report on Disability Care and Support talks about independent tools being “needed to determine the level of needs and funding for a person covered by the scheme”.
The report noted: “There is currently no ideal tool to use in the NDIS, but governments should not delay implementation of the scheme in the absence of ‘perfect’ tools. Accordingly, the NDIS would use the best available tools in its initial implementation phase, with the ongoing development of best practice approaches”.
You can read more on the Productivity Commission website .
So why haven’t independent assessments been part of the NDIS since the start?
Over the last few years, we have focused on making the NDIS available right across Australia, welcoming over 400,000 people with disability into the Scheme, who were previously on a mix of state and territory support programs, or receiving no assistance at all. This was done as quickly as we could as we knew the services provided before the NDIS were inadequate. Our focus was on speed. Now we are through that ‘transition period’ the time has come for us to focus on the quality of support provided to participants, and the sustainability of the NDIS into the future.
In 2019 the Government appointed Mr David Tune AO PSM to review the NDIS Act to identify opportunities to make NDIS processes simpler and more straight-forward – this is referred to as the Tune Review. In his review, Mr Tune considered information about independent assessments.
One of the recommendations of the Tune Review was that the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) require people applying to access the Scheme and existing participants to have an assessment to support decision-making under the NDIS Act, using NDIA-approved providers in a way set by the Agency.
The Tune Review report also said the benefits seen in the independent assessment pilot meant the assessments would be worth doing nationally for every person with disability wanting to test their access to the Scheme or require further evidence to support decision-making about the supports in their plans.
You can read the Tune Review report on the Department of Social Services website .
Our approach has also been endorsed by leading Australian academics.
Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the Autism CRC and Telethon Kids Institute, and Professor of Autism Research at The University of Western Australia says:
“The [independent assessment] framework is consistent with international best practice. It has great potential to increase the accuracy of assessment, which is a critical foundation in determining the most appropriate supports for each individual.”
University of Sydney’s Dr Ros Madden AM, Honorary Research Fellow and Nick Glozier, Professor of Psychological Medicine says:
“[The NDIA] have outlined a framework on which to build a fairer and more consistent disability assessment – to enable the rights of people with disability to participate across society. This diagnosis-neutral framework combines both the need to evaluate capacity and the determining role of the environment in helping or hindering participation.”
Professor and Chair of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, and Head of the Academic Unit of Child Psychiatry, South West Sydney, Valsamma Eapen says:
“The new functional capacity assessment framework by NDIS aligned to the International Classification of Functioning will undoubtedly enhance the development of effective programs matching each individual's functional level and needs, thereby optimising outcomes.”