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"No end in sight" to NDIS delays, says Govt's new supremo

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South Australia’s inaugural Disability Advocate says while the state is making good progress in its transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, “endemic” teething problems are still hampering the rollout.

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The State Government is today announcing the appointment of prominent disability leader Dr David Caudrey as South Australia’s first Disability Advocate tasked with improving the state’s transition to the NDIS.

Caudrey, a former executive director of Disability SA and CEO of Novita Children’s Services, will work under the Office of the Public Advocate to inform disability policy and to identity issues stemming from the introduction of the NDIS in South Australia.

When the NDIS was first announced in 2013, there were around 34,000 South Australians with disabilities who were flagged as being eligible to transfer to the NDIS by the middle of 2019.

But the process has been fraught with delays resulting from what the National Disability Insurance Agency describes as “challenges in identifying appropriate partners to support planning outcomes at the required pace”.

Latest data from the NDIA published at the end of June shows 18,460 South Australians had an approved NDIS plan – up from 15,000 participants at the end of last year.

Caudrey told InDaily today he was unsure how many South Australians were yet to transition to the NDIS, but he said from speaking to disability agencies he was led to believe that the process was “by no means complete or with the end in sight”.

“It was always a very heroic thought that they could move so many people so quickly,” he said.

“It’s really not surprising there have been so many delays… the transition will not happen by the middle of 2019.”

Caudrey will start his new role in January for a period of one year, after which the Government anticipates that all existing clients of disability services in South Australia will have transitioned to the NDIS.

Caudrey said he thought it was possible for the full transition to be completed by the end of 2019, but expressed concern that the process had encountered “endemic teething problems” that had left some disability service clients unsatisfied with their NDIS packages.

InDaily reported in June that about 500 people with disabilities in supported community accommodation were left in uncertainty about their housing situation after the Government notified disability workers via a department email that it would transition housing to the private sector in line with the NDIS.

At the time Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said transitioning the service to the NDIS would provide greater autonomy for people with disabilities to choose their service providers, but workers argued the Government had not provided sufficient notice to clients that their housing situation would change or a guarantee that their housing needs would be met by private providers.

InDaily has also reported on NDIS changes to the Personal Helpers and Mentors program (PHaMs), which provides support to hundreds of South Australians living with serious mental illness and disability.

According to mental health workers, many clients who had applied to receive the program under the NDIS had been rejected, resulting in some being admitted to hospital, forced into homelessness or committing self-harm.

Caudrey said today that there was a “mixed story” to the NDIS transition and that the vast majority of clients that had received packages were “very happy” with their outcomes.

“But of course there are other stories where people have trouble making sure that their packages that they get with the NDIS are adequate in size and they don’t have to get them reviewed and cause more delays,” he said.

“Many people are having difficult experiences, but these are probably teething problems, testing problems that can be ironed out.”

Caudrey said he would work to address a gap in the NDIS for people with community mental health needs who are classified as being ineligible for funding.

He said it was “terribly important” that the Government reflects on what is and isn’t working for particular groups and to liaise with the National Disability Insurance Agency for improved assistance.

“I think there is goodwill from the NDIA – I don’t think it’s trying to be deliberately difficult – but at the same token when problems arise we do need to put these out and work with them in order to fix them,” he said.

“It’s a mixture of lobbying, advocacy and ensure our relevant minister in the state has good quality ammunition when they’re arguing for changes to policy settings or changes to funding allocations, because the State Government does contribute 50 per cent of the NDIS funding in SA and it does have a big stake in this.”

Lensink said the role would not replace existing complaint or individual advocacy systems, rather Caudrey would act as an advocate for system improvements to ensure people with disability made a safe transition to the NDIS.

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