The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) commenced in 2016 after a 3-year trial and years of active campaigning by NDS and the disability sector. Heralded as the largest social policy reform since Medicare, the NDIS replaced an inefficient, unfair and underfunded disability support system with a world-leading system of personalised funding. The NDIS set out to transform lives by putting funding, and therefore choice and control, directly in the hands of people with disability.
For most service providers, however, this required a complete transformation of their operations and business model. Block funding would no longer be provided by the government, meaning payment for support delivered would be in arrears. Organisations would need to offer flexible services that people with disability wanted and needed, market them effectively, and prepare to meet significant growth in demand. Internal systems and processes would need to change and become leaner than ever, as corporate overheads would not be funded through NDIS prices.
The Victorian Government recognised the enormity of this change for people with disability and service providers, and allocated significant funding to support the sector through this transformation. Along with a number of other peak bodies and organisations, NDS received funding to support disability service providers and the workforce to get ready and transition to the NDIS. NDS used this funding to deliver a 3-year Sector Development Project which focused on:
1. Information provision translating and delivering vital, complex, and often changing information about NDIS operations and policy; and
2. Building capacity in a variety of critical business capabilities required to transform and thrive under the Scheme.
Following the Barwon region trial, the NDIS was phased in across Victoria over 3 years, commencing in July 2016 in the North East Melbourne Area (NEMA). The early transition was an exciting, yet enormously challenging, period for providers and participants alike. The speed and scale of the rollout were unprecedented, and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and its Local Area Coordinator (LAC) partners struggled to meet demand and upskill in time to meet with the influx of participants. For service providers, the many new processes were unclear, cumbersome and at times inconsistent across NDIS regions. Systems that worked reasonably well in regional trials failed when taken to a national scale. The NDIA’s online payment portal was plagued by major teething issues resulting in widespread payment delays. Many people with disability ended up with poor-quality plans that did not meet their needs or support their goals, and at worst delivered less support than they had before the NDIS. At the same time, many providers experienced acute financial stress, due in large part to lean NDIS prices.
In the face of these challenges, providers found it necessary to focus on operational implementation issues and cost efficiency, which limited their capacity to innovate, grow, and invest in building business and workforce capability. The majority of providers who had accessed transition support through NDS’ Sector Development Project had achieved outcomes around increased knowledge and confidence, and embedding new operational processes and systems. Relatively few providers reported outcomes relating to increased business capabilities, and many identified the need for further affordable training and support in key topics including financial management and workforce development. There was still a large gap to be bridged between providers surviving the NDIS implementation, and thriving in the NDIS market.
In January 2019 the last of Victoria’s 17 NDIS regions commenced NDIS implementation, including the outermost areas of Mallee and Outer Gippsland. At the same time, many providers in transitioned regions continued to work through the challenges of NDIS implementation, particularly as phasing in of participants lagged behind schedule. NDS committed to ensuring a variety of training resources and real case studies remain freely available to service providers through this website. Once the dust has settled after NDIS implementation, organisations are encouraged to renew their focus on building business and workforce capabilities to strengthen their organisations, provide flexible and high-quality services, and thrive in the NDIS market.