Victoria in Focus by Sarah Fordyce, November 2023
Welcome to the November edition of Victoria in Focus. It is great to be back after a short break. Once again there is a lot to review, with the final report of the Disability Royal Commission (DRC) landing just a few weeks ahead of the report from the NDIS Review - which, we hear, will probably be released in early December. Both will drive significant change and will hopefully reset the Scheme and regulatory environment for better outcomes for people with disability, the workforce and, particularly, providers supporting those with complex needs.
As the dust settled on the DRC report, our policy team produced a series of briefing papers on various areas; namely, workforce, employment, housing, quality and safety, First Nations people with disability and ‘promising practices’. These are an excellent way to digest the recommendations without reading all 12 volumes of the report.
The NDIS Review was delayed by the need to take the DRC recommendations into account, and, before it is released publicly, it must go to the disability ministers and then to National Cabinet. But the Review has already tipped its hand in many key areas and NDS is not waiting to act. Having consulted with members since the Review’s What We Have Heard paper, we identified our Top Ten Priorities for NDIS Reform. These encompass independent pricing regulation, workforce, housing, employment and supports. In the coming months, our advocacy for a better NDIS will focus on these key points.
NDS Victoria recently hosted an in-person Hot Topics event in Melbourne for NDS members, with presentations and discussion about key national and state issues affecting Victorian service providers. It was a great opportunity for members to raise their concerns and network with others. I’m hoping to see many of our regional members soon at our Hot Topics events in Ballarat (Friday 24 November) and Traralgon (Wednesday 29 November). For more information and to register, please go to our web page.
We continue to hear reports of a sector under stress. At our recent Finance Network meeting, the accountants Saward Dawson shared their insights, which chimed closely with the StewartBrown Sector Benchmarking report. They said they are seeing more organisations exploring mergers and acquisition, particularly those with sustained losses or larger underlying assets, while others are diversifying services away from direct NDIS income. Too many organisations are in the break-even (small profit or small loss) area, with some facing larger losses as well. These figures are worrying because they are the first ‘true’ operational result for most organisations since COVID-19, no longer affected by COVID restrictions and JobKeeper and one-off provider payments.
Another hot issue is the new PACE payment system, which has just started rolling out. NDS continues to hear provider concerns, particularly around the removal of service bookings, the lack of budget clarity, and the difficulties people with cognitive impairment are having with the notification system.
I encourage all our members to ensure their staff, systems and participants are up with developments, particularly since you will need to operate both systems for several months. From 31 October all new or current participants whose plans need adjustment will move to the new system. From the end of February next year, all expiring NDIS plans will move across.
The new Victorian Social Services Regulations will be rolled out in stages next year. Recruitment is underway for the Social Services Regulator, who will play a critical role in determining the nature of the regulatory environment, particularly in the overlap with NDIS registration and regulation. Information-sharing between the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commission, the NDIA and the new Regulator will be crucial.
We are also hoping for regulatory change with Victorian NDIS Checks, which continue to hamper recruitment. While we wait to see whether the NDIS Review will adopt the recommendations of the DRC on a national worker-screening scheme, we will keep advocating for further improvements to the NDIS Check in Victoria.
We are also continuing to work with the Long Service Leave Authority to get further clarity on the scheme’s application to disability services. This is another pain point for many providers and, following a recent session held with the Authority for members, we have developed some Victorian Portable Long Service Benefits Scheme FAQs.
I hope everyone has their Christmas plans in place and has a bit of leave up their sleeves. Because 2024 is shaping up as a busy, turning-point year for disability services.