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Damning report into boarding houses for NDIS participants

A new report has found people living with disability are at extreme risk across a range of boarding houses across Victoria.

A report done by Mental Health Legal Centre has revealed alarming examples of exploitation of people with disability, including NDIS participants, across the Supported Residential Services (SRS) system, historically known as boarding houses.

Approximately 1,600 NDIS participants are amongst 4,000 people living in 115 SRS’ across Victoria.

The interim report to be released today - which was triggered by whistle-blowers and commissioned by the Federal Government – found rife practices against NDIS participants by unscrupulous SRS providers including limiting access to supports, neglect, emotional manipulation, bribery, financial abuse and kidnapping.

The majority of people living in these homes have a psychosocial disability, including mental health conditions, acquired brain injury, intellectual disability and are disproportionately classified as ‘low or moderate functioning’.

The report found horrific examples of daily life in these types of accommodation include:

  • Residents being coerced into changing accommodation and disability support providers through offers of fast food.

  • Accommodation services stealing funds from residents’ financial accounts.

  • People with disability being coerced to approve false hours of supports so that services could charge without working.

  • People with psychosocial disability often threatened with eviction as the only alternative to unsuitable accommodation.

  • Residents feeling scared to sleep in their rooms, sometimes because they have no choice who they’re forced to share a room with, or because they’re physically locked in.

  • Lack of access to clean clothing and very poor food with little nutritional value.

  • Residents’ mental health declining because they have nothing to do and nowhere to go routinely.

Evidence shows that people who are recipients of NDIS supports, including those on Supported Independent Living packages, are being taken advantage of in the environment of boarding houses and more must be done by all levels of government to protect them.

The Albanese Labor Government has taken immediate action, with Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten referring providers to the NDIA, its Quality and Safeguards Commission and the Fraud Fusion Taskforce, which was set up in October 2022, to investigate SRS' with residents on the NDIS. This is in conjunction with the Mental Health Legal Centre.

In last Tuesday’s budget the Government announced an extra 200 personnel within the NDIA to crack down on unethical providers and additional funds for the Fraud Fusion Taskforce of $48.3 million.

A further $142.6 million was allocated to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to protect participants.

A mini taskforce within these agencies will be established to investigate and take action against SRS providers who are failing NDIS participants.

The Victoria Government has also introduced a new law, currently before its parliament, that will give the Victorian Disability Minister the ability to declare new types of accommodation in which people can receive NDIS and related services. Once passed this will substantially increase safeguards for people with disability living in SRS.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the NDIS and Government Services Bill Shorten:

“These bottom dwelling unethical providers need to realise that their old business model of exploiting people with disability will not be ignored by this Government.

“I’m aware and concerned that this is not just a Victorian issue and we will be looking out for this in other states and territories.

“This report is damning and shows that there are system failures putting people at risk. The NDIS cannot be the only lifeboat in the ocean, and every level of government, providers, the private sector, community groups and the broader community must work together to fix this vile problem.

“I also want to thank the brave whistleblowers who alerted me to this blatant human exploitation.”

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