Fi­nan­cial sup­port avail­able to those with dis­abil­i­ties

The NDIS is set to trans­form the way the dis­abled get help and this guide ex­plains what’s avail­able.

Money Magazine Australia - - CON­TENTS - STORY AN­THONY O’BRIEN

For peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and their fam­i­lies, get­ting care and sup­port can take a big fi­nan­cial toll. In fact, Aus­tralians with dis­abil­i­ties have it tougher than their coun­ter­parts in many other na­tions, with our spend­ing on long-term care for those un­der 65 less than half that of most Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries and just over half the UK’s. The em­ploy­ment rate for dis­abled Aus­tralians is low com­pared with the OECD av­er­age, with 45% liv­ing in or near poverty.

If dis­abil­ity is a part of life for you or a fam­ily mem­ber, you want to make the most of the sup­port avail­able. Here I give a run­down of the gov­ern­ment’s pen­sions and al­lowances, and the new Na­tional Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance Scheme (NDIS). My daugh­ter Lucy was born with ve­lo­car­dio­fa­cial syn­drome (VCFS), a rare ge­netic dis­or­der, and my wife and I are seek­ing sup­port through the NDIS, which is go­ing to rad­i­cally change the way peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties pay for many ser­vices.

Dis­abil­ity sup­port pen­sion

Peo­ple who are un­able to work be­cause of a dis­abil­ity may be el­i­gi­ble for the dis­abil­ity sup­port pen­sion (DSP) from the De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices through Cen­tre­link. The DSP is for peo­ple with per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ties who are older than 16 but younger than the age for re­ceiv­ing the age pen­sion.

The DSP is cal­cu­lated ac­cord­ing to the same in­come and as­sets tests as the age pen­sion, and it’s worth check­ing with Cen­tre­link to see if you qual­ify and what you would re­ceive. As an ex­am­ple, for sin­gle peo­ple over 21, the cur­rent max­i­mum fort­nightly DSP pay­ment is $888.30 and for those with part­ners it’s $669.60 (in­clud­ing the pen­sion sup­ple­ment and en­ergy sup­ple­ment).

An ap­pli­ca­tion is made through Cen­tre­link, and the per­son’s med­i­cal his­tory must be sub­mit­ted. The per­son is usu­ally then sent for a job ca­pac­ity as­sess­ment and in some cases a dis­abil­ity med­i­cal as­sess­ment as well. There is no cost for these assess­ments as they’re car­ried out by health pro­fes­sion­als paid by Cen­tre­link. Us­ing cri­te­ria set out in the so­cial se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion, Cen­tre­link con­sid­ers the per­son’s med­i­cal his­tory and the re­sults of the assess­ments to de­ter­mine el­i­gi­bil­ity.

Carer pay­ment al­lowance

If you are un­able to work be­cause you care for a per­son with a dis­abil­ity in a pri­vate home, you may be able to get a carer pay­ment or carer al­lowance from the De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices through Cen­tre­link.

To get the carer pay­ment, the per­son you are car­ing for must re­quire a high level of care, to the point it prevents you from spend­ing more than 25 hours work­ing, study­ing or do­ing train­ing. In­come and as­sets tested, it’s paid at the same rate as the DSP and other so­cial se­cu­rity pen­sions.

If your in­come and as­sets put you over the thresh­old for re­ceiv­ing the carer pay­ment, you may still be able to get the carer al­lowance. As it’s con­sid­ered an

in­come sup­ple­ment, your in­come and as­sets are not taken into ac­count. It’s for car­ers who on a daily ba­sis are at­tend­ing to some­one who needs a sig­nif­i­cant amount of care.

To get ei­ther type of sup­port, you will need to be as­sessed to see if you meet the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria. This re­quires you and a health pro­fes­sional treat­ing the per­son in your care to fill out ques­tion­naires. It’s worth not­ing that the carer pay­ment or al­lowance is also avail­able for those car­ing for peo­ple with se­ri­ous ill­nesses or the frail aged.

How the NDIS works

The NDIS, for peo­ple un­der 65 who have per­ma­nent and sig­nif­i­cant dis­abil­i­ties, is grad­u­ally be­ing rolled out around the coun­try. The Na­tional Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance Agency (NDIA), which runs the scheme, says that by 2019 it aims to pro­vide $22 bil­lion a year in fund­ing for ser­vices and equip­ment for about 460,000 peo­ple.

The scheme is de­signed to com­ple­ment, not re­place, the DSP and car­ers’ ben­e­fits. It’s not means tested, so all dis­abled peo­ple and their car­ers – even those who cur­rently don’t qual­ify for pen­sions and al­lowances – should check how it may af­fect them. An NDIA spokesper­son con­firms there is no cap on sup­ports that may be funded as part of an NDIS plan. “In­stead, the NDIA uses the prin­ci­ples of ‘rea­son­able’ and ‘nec­es­sary’ to de­ter­mine what is ap­pro­pri­ate for an in­di­vid­ual.” NDIA staff make de­ci­sions based on the Na­tional

Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance Scheme Act 2013 (NDIS Act) and the rules made un­der the NDIS Act. The op­er­a­tional guide­lines also pro­vide prac­ti­cal guid­ance for de­ci­sion mak­ers. I’m not about to urge you to read the NDIS Act – suf­fice to say, ap­ply­ing for a new swim­ming pool to help im­prove my daugh­ter’s gross mo­tor de­vel­op­ment prob­a­bly would not be deemed rea­son­able or nec­es­sary.

“Rea­son­able and nec­es­sary sup­ports are funded by the NDIS to help a par­tic­i­pant to reach their goals, ob­jec­tives and as­pi­ra­tions in a range of ar­eas, which may in­clude ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment, so­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion, in­de­pen­dence, liv­ing ar­range­ments, and health and well­be­ing,” says the NDIA spokesper­son.

Fi­nan­cial im­pact

Be­cause the NDIS is in its early stages, the jury’s still out on the im­pact it’s go­ing to have on wal­lets, and in­deed the im­pact is likely to vary from one fam­ily to the next. As with any new scheme that has the po­ten­tial to af­fect your fi­nan­cial fu­ture

– just think of the in­tro­duc­tion of manda­tory su­per­an­nu­a­tion 25 years ago – it’s strongly ad­vised that you bone up on the NDIS as soon as pos­si­ble, and start the ball rolling on get­ting a sup­port plan (more on this later).

The NDIA ar­gues that the scheme will give a dis­abled per­son more per­sonal choice and con­trol over how they ac­cess the sup­port they need. A per­son works with one of the NDIA’s part­ner agen­cies in their com­mu­nity to come up with an in­di­vid­u­alised plan based on the

sup­port­supp they need to achieve their goals. Then, if the NDIANDI agrees to fund those sup­port ser­vices, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties can choose where to buy them.

Self-man­aged or man­aged fund­ing

Par­tic­i­pants in the scheme can re­quest to man­age the fi­nances them­selves. First the NDIA con­ducts a risk as­sess­ment to make sure the per­son is ca­pa­ble of man­ag­ing the money. “Self-man­age­ment meansm the par­tic­i­pant is re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing and ac­quit­ting the in­voices re­lated to the sup­ports theyth have re­ceived through their NDIS plan,” says the NDIA spokesper­son. “They are re­im­bursed for these ex­penses, with the money de­posited into their nom­i­nated NDIS bank ac­count.

“If a par­tic­i­pant chooses to self-man­age any part of their NDIS bud­get, they are re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing that the rel­e­vant in­voices for sup­ports are paid on time, and keep­ing ap­pro­pri­ate records and re­ceipts for sup­ports pro­vided, claimed and paid. They also need to re­port to the NDIA on the amount used and funds spent on the self-man­aged items of their NDIS plan.”

For chil­dren, ev­ery­thing is han­dled by par­ents, while for peo­ple whose dis­abil­i­ties pre­vent them from mak­ing their own plans and han­dling money, the re­spon­si­bil­ity falls to what’s known as a “nom­i­nee” – usu­ally a fam­ily mem­ber, carer or dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cate.

Some of the sup­ports in the plans are hard to value in dol­lar terms. For in­stance, the NDIS will pro­vide im­proved ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion about the best sup­port op­tions, and will or­gan­ise re­fer­rals to the most ap­pro­pri­ate ser­vice providers or pri­vate ser­vices in your re­gion such as phys­io­ther­a­pists, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pists and speech ther­a­pists out­side the NDIS sys­tem. It will also put dis­abled peo­ple in touch with sup­port groups and pro­grams in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, although in the case of my daugh­ter our lo­cal dis­trict gov­ern­ment health ser­vice pro­vides these re­fer­rals.

The sup­ports the NDIA funds will vary. For in­stance, a young woman with cere­bral palsy might get fund­ing for a new wheel­chair, phys­io­ther­apy and daily in-home as­sis­tance to help her be­come more in­de­pen­dent. A mid­dle-aged woman with to­tal vi­sion loss could get help with pay­ing for food and vet bills for her guide dog, ori­en­ta­tion and mo­bil­ity train­ing for trav­el­ling to new lo­ca­tions, taxi fares, tech­nol­ogy for con­vert­ing text to speech, and home clean­ing.

Par­ents of young chil­dren may be of­fered early in­ter­ven­tion sup­port to help iden­tify the most ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ments and ser­vices. Some of that sup­port is about con­nect­ing par­ents with the rel­e­vant or­gan­i­sa­tions in their com­mu­nity.

Depend­ing on a child’s in­di­vid­ual plan, the NDIS may pro­vide money to pay for sup­port such as phys­io­ther­apy, au­di­ol­ogy, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, po­di­a­try and ther­apy to im­prove speech, lan­guage or be­hav­iour. We’ve found that young chil­dren el­i­gi­ble for the NDIS fund­ing for ser­vices such as speech pathol­ogy can ac­cess this ser­vice through non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) or pri­vate ser­vices in our lo­cal area. How­ever, we can no longer ac­cess speech ther­apy from our lo­cal area health ser­vice for Lucy.

This may be con­fus­ing in the be­gin­ning for par­ents but once the NDIS is fully op­er­a­tional, hope­fully it should be­come clearer and eas­ier to ac­cess ser­vices.

A young woman with cere­bral palsy might get fund­ing for a new wheel­chair

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