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‘Utterly unconscionable’: NDIS agency looks to reduce costs by increasing ‘participant exits’

The agency that runs the national disability insurance scheme is seeking to increase the number of people that “exit” the scheme and reduce overall spending on funding packages through a “targeted review of existing participant plans”, internal documents show.

Leaked documents last month revealed the agency had set up a Sustainability Action Taskforce (SAT) with the aim of slowing spending on participant plans and growth in participant numbers.

The National Disability Insurance Agency has refused to discuss the actions of the taskforce, which Labor and the Greens have dubbed a “razor gang”. But new documents obtained by Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws provide further insight into its aims.

The previously reported internal talking points, labelled “strictly not for external distribution”, stated the taskforce’s three aims were to “slow net growth in participant numbers”, “slow growth in spend per participant”, and “strengthen operational discipline”.

The new documents, however, reveal the attempt to slow the growth in participant numbers will come, in part, from a focus on an “increase [in] participant exits”.

Further, slowing spending on participants’ funding packages will be achieved in part by a “targeted review of existing participant plans”, the documents state.

Other objectives include a focus on “tighter planning principles”, “tighter policies on specific reasonable and necessary supports”, “tighter price controls”, and an “increased enforcement of assurance policies”.

The unit’s aims relate to internal decisions made by the agency’s planners and are separate to a wider overhaul scheme through the controversial introduction of independent assessments, or a rewriting of the NDIS Act that determines in law what can be funded and who can receive support.

It comes as the government faces a backlash from the disability community over its warning the scheme is increasingly unsustainable.

Tuesday’s budget papers showed spending on the scheme would hit $28.1bn next financial year, up from a projected $25.4bn forecast for 2021-22 in last year’s October budget.

Costs are tipped to hit $33.3bn in 2024-25, an increase from predictions in a 2017 Productivity Commission report that estimated the figure would reach $30.6bn by then.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the NDIS minister, Linda Reynolds, have used these forecasts to claim a need for “hard discussions” about the sustainability of the current funding model.

Labor’s NDIS spokesman, Bill Shorten, said the new documents were “proof positive the Morrison government has no plan for Australians with disability except slash, slash, slash”.

“It is utterly unconscionable that vulnerable people are trying in good faith to get on the NDIS completely unaware there is a secret plan not to let them in,” he said.

Senator Jordon Steele-John, the Greens disability spokesman, said it was “proof what disabled people had been saying … was true”.

“The goal of the so-called Sustainability Action Taskforce is to stop disabled people getting on and kicking off people who are already on our NDIS,” he said.

He said it suggested the government had deployed a “team of people to march around the agency and identify people to be kicked off the plan they have”.

“This is a razor gang sweeping through the 430,000 people that rely on access to the NDIS to live a good life,” Steele-John said.

The documents show the taskforce has been “asked to deliver monthly improvement packages” from “April 2021 through to August 2021”.

One of the scheme’s actions has been to create a document of seven scheme principles that “planners and frontline staff should consider when creating a plan”.

However, there is still significant doubt about the taskforce’s broader remit.

Asked at Senate estimates this month what the taskforce would be doing, the NDIA chief executive, Martin Hoffman, declined to directly answer. He emphasised the unit was merely part of “ongoing management activity”.

Hoffman said the taskforce’s targets were only to ensure the scheme operated “in accordance with the portfolio budget statements”. He also would not say when the taskforce was established except to say he had “asked one of my general managers to go offline to work on this”.

An organisational chart also released under freedom of information suggests the taskforce has five full-time staff and eight part-timers.

An NDIA spokesperson did not respond to questions about the SAT’s aims or activities, including whether the “targeted review of existing participant plans” described a plan to target particular participants for review in order to reduce their funding.

“All activities of the agency, including those of the SAT, are consistent with and authorised under the NDIS Act, including the responsibilities for scheme sustainability and operating in line with the agreed funding from all governments,” the spokesperson said.

Source: The Guardian