A regional New South Wales man says he has found himself in a “bureaucratic nightmare” while trying to access funding through the National Disability Insurance Agency.
- Regional NDIS participant Richard Bradley says the agency’s decisions are causing a snowball of appeals that are wasting taxpayer dollars
- Mr Bradley says assistive technology assessment costs are excessive and unreasonable
- The NDIA has been accused of breaching its “model litigant” obligations, with a 400 per cent increase in AAT cases this year
Richard Bradley, 31, from Nambucca Heads on the NSW Mid North Coast, says he has been told by lawyers he needs to get $ 35,000 worth of professional assessments for $ 14,000 worth of equipment to help him live and work.
Mr Bradley has Klinefelter’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing reduced muscle function and cognitive difficulties that affect almost every facet of his daily life.
He also lives with dysphagia, a condition that makes it difficult to swallow and can trigger potentially life-threatening choking episodes.
“The NDIA doesn’t recognize my disabilities as having a physical impact on my daily life, so they say they can’t fund many of the supports I’ve requested,” Mr Bradley said.
The NDIS and its sustainable future have become a hotly debated election issue and Mr Bradley says he is sick of commentary suggesting “uncapped funding” to NDIS participants is causing “cost blowouts”.
He believes the agency itself is responsible for wasting taxpayer dollars through excessively expensive assessment processes and “inhumane” decisions to deny or cut support packages that have led to a 400 per cent increase in cases going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) over the past year.
“I applied for $ 14,000 worth of equipment for simple items like fluoro-colored keys, tracking devices and a food processor,” Mr Bradley said.
“During my appeals process, lawyers for the NDIA requested full assistive technology (AT) assessments on all 61 items requested, which comes to approximately $ 35,000.”
Mr Bradley’s dysphagia means eating and drinking poses a constant challenge, so he has applied for kitchen equipment and supports his doctors say will significantly help reduce his risk of choking.
“I require carbonated fluid,” he said. “If I drank water out of the tap, I could choke.
“In the past year I’ve had seven trips to the emergency room, several in an ambulance, which is also a significant cost burden on the already understaffed regional hospital system.”
An NDIA spokesperson said Mr Bradley had “not been found eligible to have NDIS funding in his plan to purchase AT equipment” and that the agency had not “directed Mr Bradley to undergo any assessments at his own expense”.
The spokesperson said “a participant seeking external review may provide new evidence to support their case at any time”.
They said recent changes made it “easier for participants to access assistive technology” through “quicker and more flexible approvals to cover mid-cost AT between $ 1,500 and $ 15,000”.
Going through ‘hell’
Along with hundreds of NDIS participants, Mr Bradley is now waiting for his case to be heard before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Earlier this year Senate Estimates revealed the NDIA spent nearly $ 22 million on external legal fees.
Mr Bradley said he was in disbelief that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were going to some of the country’s biggest corporate law firms rather than to people the scheme was designed to help.
Lawyer and advocate Karen Kline is helping NDIS participants navigate the “incredibly complex AAT process” by compiling a list of barristers willing to work pro bono.
She believed the NDIA was not upholding the “model litigant” obligation imposed on all government agencies to ensure they acted fairly, efficiently and kept costs to a minimum.
“Examples of breaches of the model litigant obligations include delay tactics and making onerous requests for information,” Ms Kline said.
“Despite the fact s44 of the AAT Act does not provide the power to compel a participant to have an independent medical assessment, the NDIA persist in asking for this.
“What these people are going through is hell.
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds said “improving the participant experience” had been one of her highest priorities.
She blamed Labor for the “bureaucratic red tape built into the scheme”.
Ms Reynolds said the increase in AAT applications reflected “a combination of more participants and the maturing scheme”.
Shadow NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said if Labor was elected the party would “ask the NDIA to audit all matters where the cost of what is argued is less than the cost to argue it at all”.
Mr Bradley said neither of the major parties had made any promises that appeared to him.