Improving access to specialist disability accommodation

A new report from PIAC and the Housing Hub shows that successful advocacy has led to improvements in NDIA decision-making. But people who need Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) still face a system with significant problems.

In 2022, PIAC and Housing Hub released Housing Delayed and Denied, which examined how the NDIA made decisions on requests for SDA funding, and exposed problems with the NDIS review process. It made 12 recommendations for reform.

SDA funding enables people with extreme functional impairment or very high support needs to access the housing and supports they require to live an ordinary life at home. SDA properties might include wider corridors, hoists in bedrooms and bathrooms or provision for installing assistive technology.  

This 2022 report found the NDIA’s decision-making about SDA funding was often unfair, opaque and delayed, while ignoring the preferences of participants.

Our new Housing Delayed and Denied Data Update analyses data released since the first report and assesses the Agency’s response to the concerns raised. It shows the NDIA is making some SDA funding decisions more quickly, and that better decision-making is leading to more people receiving the right supports for their needs.

Agency data shows 94% of requests for Home and Living supports were finalised within 90 days in the quarter to March 2023, compared to just 68% in the same quarter of 2022.

Additionally, data in our report shows a smaller proportion of people received initial funding decisions that did not match their requested supports, dropping from 55% between 2017-22, to 26% in 2022-23.

Meaningful improvements have also been made to the NDIA’s process for engaging with external reviews of decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), with the NDIA identifying AAT cases that can be settled and proactively resolving them faster. This has reduced the time that participants with strong cases must wait to receive appropriate SDA funding.

Yet improvements to the SDA decision-making process are not consistent.

The NDIS continues to make poor planning decisions and avoidable errors. For example, the new report found Agency staff continue too often to ignore crucial evidence when making decisions, sometimes leaving participants living in unsuitable or even unsafe conditions.

These poor decisions create delays in the appeals process, as participants are forced to request reviews of clearly erroneous decisions to receive the supports they need.

The case of Hyun Mee*, a PIAC client, demonstrates this failing. Hyun Mee wanted to live alone, so she could choose support staff who could speak her first language, as there had been dangerous miscommunications with English-speaking staff. Hyun Mee also wished to live in a home reflecting her culture and lifestyle, and which would better allow for her family and friends to assist with her care needs.

When the NDIA refused her request, Hyun Mee applied for external review by the AAT. Months after lodging the application, the NDIA contacted Hyun Mee’s family, admitting they had made a mistake in their initial decision and agreed to fund her preferred SDA. Despite this, it still took the NDIA a further nine months to settle and provide the funding.

PIAC and the Housing Hub’s primary recommendation is that the NDIA urgently overhauls its internal processes and policies to eliminate critical errors in planning and the delivery of incorrect advice to participants.

In the 2022 report, PIAC and the Housing Hub concluded that the NDIS (and SDA in particular) has ‘life-changing potential’, but participants too often face a system of convoluted decision-making and reviews, needless delays, and avoidable errors. Despite some welcome improvements since the 2022 Housing Delayed and Denied report, this conclusion still applies and an urgent need for change remains.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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