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Commonwealth Ombudsman says National Disability Insurance Agency needs significant change

The National Disability Insurance Agency needs to make significant changes to the way it works otherwise it risks increasing delays to fulfilling its obligations, according to a Commonwealth Ombudsman report.

The report, released this week by Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe, focuses on the agency's handling of requests for assistive technologies and is part of several reviews by the Ombudsman into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Since the NDIS was rolled out in 2013, the number of complaints about the agency received by the Commonwealth Ombudsman has increased each year.

In 2018-19 the Ombudsman received 1711 complaints about the agency, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year. Complaints about assistive technologies accounted for 13 per cent of the total complaints, the equal second-most common complaint.

Assistive technologies are any device or system that allows a person to complete tasks they would otherwise be unable to do. They range from the most basic, such as non-slip mats in a shower, to more complicated items such as specially designed wheelchairs.

The Ombudsman reported the most common complaint regarding assistive technologies was the length of time taken for requests to be processed. Clients also reported confusion with the agency's processes and said communication about the status and timeframe of a request was lacking.

The report noted many of the same issues complained about regarding assistive technologies were reflected across the entire NDIS rollout.

"Delay is a recurring issue across all parts of the NDIS - from access to the scheme to planning and in assistive technology requests," the report said.

"In our view, without making significant changes to the way the NDIA administers its work, there is a risk that delays will continue and the timeframes in the Participant Service Guarantee will not be met, driving further complaints and work for the NDIA."

The Participant Service Guarantee was announced last year by the federal government and will legislate set timeframes for parts of the NDIS process.

The Ombudsman made 14 recommendations to the agency which, if acted upon, would represent an overhaul of the internal processes for handling assistive technology requests.

The recommendations included a call for a move to a single, central records management system so client's case details could be more easily obtained by staff and for better advice to be communicated to clients about supporting evidence and documentation they needed to provide.

The agency accepted 12 of the recommendations and provided responses detailing how it had improved its work in relation to the other two.

In response to the report, NDIA chief executive Martin Hoffman said the agency had updated its official processes in handling requests for assistive technology and was expected to release further updates next year.

He said the agency was increasing transparency by ensuring the client had the same level of information about a decision as the staff did.

He also said the agency had taken steps to centralise its communication with clients so it was less confusing.

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