We are concerned about ‘Independent Assessments’ for the NDIS

Last week, the Australian Government responded to the Tune Review Report, supporting, or supporting in principle, 29 recommendations to make the NDIS less complex, and to support fair access and easier navigation of the scheme.

However, like many in the disability community, PWDA is highly concerned about the additional announcement of “independent assessments”, to be conducted by healthcare professionals using standardised tools.  

This goes well beyond the scope of the small pilot we supported, trialling the use of “functional assessments”, intended to move away from a reliance on medical assessments and give people with disability better access to the NDIS by covering the costs of gathering evidence, and getting reports.

People with disability are the experts in our own support needs. Building relationships with medical and allied health professionals, developing a productive, shared understanding of our individual needs, can take time, and requires a mutual commitment to building trust.

The prospect of attending compulsory assessments, with healthcare professionals we don’t know, who are unfamiliar with the particulars of our situations, with only 1 – 4 hours to communicate our needs and with our basic supports on the line, is highly distressing to many of us.

If we don’t agree with the independent assessor’s opinion, we are worried that we will have to go through the appeals process, which is timely, costly and may delay access to urgently needed supports.

These concerns are not unfounded. People with disability who have undergone independent assessments in other schemes, such as workers compensation schemes, have found the process stressful and hostile. Ombudsman reports have shown that some workers compensation insurers purposefully choose independent assessors who they know are more likely to recommend terminating or minimising supports. We are concerned that the same issues will arise if the NDIS starts using independent assessments.

The NDIS is meant to champion the choice and control of people with disability. As it stands, we struggle to see how a compulsory program of “independent assessments” is compatible with the stated objects of the NDIS Act.

However, as long as this remains the intended approach of the government, we would like some clarity regarding the following:

  • How will a standardised assessment tool accurately capture the wildly diverse needs of people with all kinds of disability?
  • How will it be ensured that an assessor has the appropriate knowledge and background to provide an assessment for any particular person with disability?
  • How will the accuracy and reliability of assessors be monitored, and what will happen if there is inconsistency in how assessments are done?
  • Why is there no scope to consider evidence and/or advice provided by a treating professional that a person with disability already engages with?
  • What is the potential for independent assessments to have punitive effects on marginalised communities (regional and remote Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds …)?
  • Why are people who have previously been assessed as having stable functional capacity required to undertake a new assessment?
  • Will all necessary supports be provided to enable participation in assessments, such as transport and communication supports?

These concerns are not exhaustive, and we need clear answers. The proposal to introduce “independent assessments” should not go ahead until we know exactly how the model will impact people participating in the scheme. The aim to introduce “individual assessments” in 2021 feels rushed given the current evidence.

We need significant and widespread consultation with people with disability on this program. Additionally, disability representative organisations like PWDA need to be resourced to consult widely with our communities.

We encourage our members to write or contact the Minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert MP, if you would like to express your own concerns.

Stuart Robert MP
PO Box 733,
Biggera Waters,
QLD, 4216

(07) 5500 5919