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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Staff laid off, services cut ahead of NDIS rollout

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DAISI Ballina. Its shopfront is set to close unless the state government reverses its decision to withdraw funding. Photo Simon Pender

Paul Bibby 

Local disability service providers have had to lay off staff, cut services and sell off assets in a bid to survive the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

A combination of unrealistic transition deadlines, the sudden end of state government funding, and a tough new payment system have forced many service providers to trim their operations to the bone.

This has seen dozens of staff leave the sector at a time when there is already a shortage of qualified disability support workers, and the shutting down of crucial services such as transport and respite care.

Cody Boylan, the operations manager of mid-north coast disability services provider Aces Inc, said the launch of the NDIS had been like ‘a plane taking off without a fuselage’.

‘We’ve had to let probably four or five admin staff go,’ Mr Boylan said.

‘Under the new payment and pricing model there’s nothing for the organisation’s back end – the administration.

‘We’ve had to cut spending pretty dramatically.’

Funding model

Service providers interviewed by The Echo said that the biggest impact on the sector was the shift from the old state government block funding model to the new demand-based system.

While previously organisations would be funded months in advance to run particular programs that people with a disability could then apply to access, they are now effectively competing with other organisations to attract participants and then invoicing the National Disability Agency (NDA) afterwards based on how many people took part.

The sudden loss of guaranteed state funding in combination with the very lean hourly rate for disability services set by the NDA has left the service providers with little choice other than to downsize.

Service provider Lifebridge, which covers a large swathe of the northern rivers, has recently been forced to let the equivalent of ten full-time staff go in order to make ends meet.

The organisation’s chief executive Bronwyn Mitchell said that they had managed to achieve the necessary staff reductions through voluntary redundancy.

‘Obviously we would have preferred to not to decrease staff, but we didn’t have the funds to continue the hours of service that we’d been providing,’ Ms Mitchell said.

‘When we began to do our preparation work we realised that a significant amount of money wasn’t going to be coming in and our income wasn’t going to be able to cover what we were doing.

‘We were going to have to become leaner and I think that’s the case across the entire sector.’

Despite the major changes forced upon her organisation, Ms Mitchell believes that the NDIS will ultimately be good for Lifebridge and the sector more broadly.

‘It’s entirely different from the way we’ve been operating, but I think there are real opportunities there,’ she said.

‘I think in the past programs tended to become overhead intensive because you got a block of funding from the government and you had to spend it all on that program.

‘So there wasn’t much of an incentive to be efficient or particularly innovative.

‘The NDIS expects us to be operating in a market with very low overheads, and that’s been a huge cultural shift. Suddenly we’re investing in new software, IT, change management, marketing managers.

‘I think once we’ve got the efficiencies in place we’ll be in a very strong position to grow because the demand for services under the NDIS is growing dramatically.’

For now, though, Lifebridge and many other local service providers are trimming their operations wherever possible.

Another local service provider, FSG, has recently cut wages, sold off a number of property assets, and increased its borrowing to cover a $5.2 million loss of revenue last financial year.

‘To put the loss into perspective, it represents 7.6 per cent of gross income,’ FSG’s financial report states.

‘The changes being forced on our industry in both staffing and business operations are profound and most organisations are grappling with the need to adapt in a very short period of time.’

Service cuts

Perhaps the most concerning impact of the NDIS transition has been the cuts to local services it has entailed.

The combination of cut-backs and funding gaps in the new scheme has seen organisations reduce their respite services, planning and coordination, travel assistance, information services, supported employment and early intervention.

A report prepared last year by the peak body for disability service providers – NDS – identifies transport as a particular area of concern.

‘NDIS funding for transport… is significantly less than disability service providers have been expending,’ the report states.

‘As a result, a growing number of disability service providers are considering selling vehicles used to assist participants to travel. NDS has concerns this transport will be lost before other options emerge, severely disadvantaging NDIS participants.’

For two local service providers the loss of state funding and the failure of the NDIS to pick up the slack could be fatal.

Ballina-based organisation DAISI and Ability Advocacy in Alstonville say they may be forced to close when the NSW government cuts their funding in June as part of the NDIS transition.

Kim Tyson from Ability Advocacy said that the state government had claimed that the NDIS was now responsible for funding them even though the agency that runs the scheme ‘categorically state that it does not support advocacy’ – their core business.

‘As a result, one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our society, people with disabilities, may be without someone to stand up and speak out on their behalf,’ Mr Tyson said.

Nevertheless, Mr Tyson, like many others in the sector, still has faith that the NDIS will benefit those with a disability.

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  1. There’s another way of reading this: inefficient and unresponsive providers are being forced to lift their game.
    It’s also untrue to claim that there are overall job losses. The NDIS substantially increases the number of jobs in the sector.

  2. David Sanderson is on the money. As an ex-disability worker for NSW government I have seen the NDIS go from a really great idea, thanks to Julia Gillard, to a dog’s breakfast. Incompetence and poor decision making on the part of governments, money wasted, a ridiculous tendering process and opportunistic tenderers out to make big bucks have reduced the NDIS to what it has become. This was supposed to be a huge job provider for the State, especially the Far North Coast. 30,000 + jobs over time! Now people are being laid off ?? The whole process has been sabotaged by the right wing of state and fed governments who don’t give a shite about the needs of people living with a disability and can’t stand the thought that the Labor Government at the time had a good idea.

  3. All that was promised, all that was pitched has not been delivered.
    My experience of the NDIS has been an over complicated system failing to match funding to needs.
    My son received the same funded amount to transition to Kindergarten 14years ago.
    I am expected to budget, organise the funding, administratively manage an unmanageable system.
    At 18 my son needs to feel independent from his Mother.
    Not how the NDIS is structured, reliant on me.

  4. Agree that it is hard to navigate the website and apply for NDIS…and then to be told your child,because he is under 7, can’t receive speech therapy because there’s a huge gap in govt funding and his diagnosed severe articulation problems can be attended by community places….oh…yes..huge waiting list…but u can find it yourself for 180 an hour….NDIS… basically a good idea but another idea “rolled out” poorly.

  5. Audit NDIS to find out how much money is being squandered on consultancy fee’s of companies that have political ties , this is another bureaucratic pink batt like fiasco that will cost expensive years to repair by the same like consultants that made it what it is .

  6. This story is one sided. As a client of the NDIS I want to say that providers have had a free run for far too long. Many provide poor service and charge full price of $44 per hour. Seriously, for an unskilled worker that is a rip off. They often have no qualifications and charge as much as in home nursing! They treat clients like crap but now the client has the power to choose a better provider. I’m in full support. I was seriously ripped off 10k in 5 weeks by one provider!

  7. I agree with David Sanderson, if services providers disappear it will be because people have chosen not to use them. And people will only do that if the services they were providing were not up to scratch.
    I am on the NDIS and LOVE that I no longer have to go through the organisation that was allocated the government contract for care services.
    I now have been able to get a private support worker who is so enthusiastic and much more flexible and helpful to my needs. For the first time in 11 years I feel like I am living not just existing.
    There maybe job cuts in some organisations but I know a few others are employing more and more workers going from strength to strength and many more workers have started their own businesses as private support workers. Jobs in this area are growing not reducing. Only reducing in those places that didnt prepare properly for the transition or who didn’t provide what clients are really after.
    With one exception and that is the advocacy. They are correct in stating it is NOT funded by the NDIS. This is one area the state government still needs to help fund…but advocacy providers also need to make sure it is a value for money service.
    I do agree with others saying the NDIS is a complicated nightmare application process. This is 100% true and seriously needs to be addressed. The stress has caused, not just myself but many others, an increase in mental health issues and physical illness exacerbation.


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