Future of Disability Accommodations in Australia?
Updated: Sep 30
Recently, I have been reading a report that detailed the current scenario of Supported Independent living Models (Disability Accommodation) in Australia. The report was published on 13 May 2020 by the Joint standing committee on the NDIS and it detailed facts, observations and recommendations by the committee on the existing SIL model of supports. As I kept reading the report, one thing clearly indicated to me is that the committee was very serious to bring a positive change and it made a great stand point indicating that the current SIL model requires serious overhaul. I was impressed to find a long list of 45 recommendations made by the committee to improve the existing NDIS accommodation service scenario for people with disabilities.
The key information within the report ranged from all sorts of discussions, from SIL approval process to the exit stage of the participant and so forth vacancy management by the provider. While the report is an intensive 149-page document, it may be an easy to grasp information for audiences who are already affiliated or working with NDIS and SIL in some way. But for those who are new to NDIS, I thought to write this little piece of document that may give some background and insights into SIL in a simple manner. I have tried to summarize some key aspects here that led to the findings within the report in the context of What, Why and How for the issues mentioned in the report.
However, If you wish to dig deep down in to this quality stuff, the full document is available here - https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/National_Disability_Insurance_Scheme/Independentliving/Report
So WHAT is this report talking about?
If you are pondering what is it all about that joint committee is discussing in its report and why these flaws needing streamlining, I must say - you have an Interesting Question to begin with.
Now, those who are connected to NDIS and/or disability sector in Australia, may be familiar with the terms SIL, ILO, STA & SDA and may also be aware of some of the service and funding related issues existing with these models of accommodation. However, for those who are new to these terms, let me tell you that these terms represent Accommodation models in Disability services that are funded by NDIA(A Government Agency).
These are the types of dwelling which are owned or rented by Disability service providers and the supports are offered to participants within that home 24/7 based on the needs and requirement of NDIS participant. This is to enable participants to live as independently and autonomously as possible. The supports are totally funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, while the tenancy part of the dwelling is managed by service provider and is funded by participant from their DSP.
WHY is this change needed?
NDIS is all about choice and control, however it was found that this term stumbles when it comes to SIL side of things. With more than 8 years of my experience in Disability sector, I am fully aware of the pain points faced by service providers and participants in coming together on an agreement in SIL disability accommodations.
The fundamental principal of NDIS is choice and control for participants and good practices by providers at all levels. With SIL supports, I have seen that many providers are even letting participants have the room painted in colour of their choice besides other great person centric services offered. But I often try to think of those key determinants that can consistently be used to measure the inner satisfaction of a participant’s experience within the home. Surely there are many factors requiring consideration here and again such a feeling of calling a place “My Home” is a long term thing for we humans, right? But the point is what efforts a service provider can make to nurture such beautiful feeling by constantly understanding and fulfilling the needs of participants. Undoubtedly many Organisations are having great processes to achieve an optimum which is amazing but what if some SIL providers are failing in some or the other way. And this is where the committe is heading towards in making those recommendations and bringing in a standard.
In any case, it is very important for a service provider to find ways to have some sort of feedback loop helping to fine tune things. For example, it could be nominating a staff member as a buddy who can then constantly check on a participant’s comfort levels.
In practice, service providers do their level best, but adversities are still expected. If we being proactive and are keen to fix problems, things may resolve. However, an important question to raise here is that – how are we as service providers placed in supporting the choice of a participant to transfer to another service provider. The occurrence of such situation is often a draining experience for most service providers as it would mean shuffling lot of things, creating a vacancy and ending in a financial risk. In case of many small providers this may even jeopardise their existence in a competitive market. But as NDIS is all about choice and control and for the participant's best interest, if a participant expressed being unhappy in a particular SIL home then regardless of its implications on the provider, the participant must be provided with options to live the best life.
Hence drawing upon recommendations made by the committee, to me an ideal change would not only create a SIL system improvement that addresses and supports participant needs under NDIS; but a good futureproof system will also give some consideration to support new and existing service providers to navigate the SIL market.
Financial burden faced by service providers in managing vacancy is one of the major issue leading to quick signup of participants. Easing the financial burden associated with vacancy management, may rather encourage providers to fully embrace gradual introduction and a slow welcome process, which in turn will avoid the major risk of early exit. Now you may be thinking, isn’t the service provider must be aware of associated business risks such as vacancies and its contingencies? Well Of course yes, however unfortunately due to the unprecedented complications arising within a SIL service model and often snail pace operations of NDIA with its provider payments - adds up to the complexity more; and any organisation may stumble. Surely that’s where a great leadership and exceptional management skills are tested – isn’t it? But, I still see that in order to solve the SIL complications arising from improper match of participants and filling vacancies, NDIA needs to introduce measures from both participant and service providers side to make a solid two-way bridge.
Much of the issues discussed above is also resulting due to the fact that the current SIL model transitioned from the pre NDIS era disability housing model (state funded system) and report did acknowledge that as well. Hence, it is important to try and look SIL from a completely new set of eyes making many refinements or a full change and hence the joint committee’s report making 40 plus recommendations.
I am hopeful that some recommendation made by committee such as having a register of vacancy and setting up a specialist team under NDIA for vacancy management, may provide some assistance to providers in the management of SIL vacancy and an answer towards some of the financial difficulties faced by provider.
HOW – Highlights of recommendations/suggestions
To revamp the fractured system, changes will include transparent and faster processes, provisioning of additional funds in plans to give participants choice to exit SIL and co-residency arragnemnts if they prefer, more individualised funding models, strengthening choice and control by eradicating conflict of interest issues existing by separating SIL, support coordination and tenancy management provided by same provider.
If you are a SIL provider, this is the time to gear up and to develop and shape your processes or business model in a way that may give you a smoother transition in the new upcoming SIL regime. The report mentioning about provisioning additional funding for participants wanting to quit congregate living arrangements with a view to give flexibility also means an inclination towards ILO models.
Now let’s look at the ILO models for an instance, which is focussed on giving a more meaningful connection to one’s life and choice. ILO addresses and tries to strengthen six principles and is a useful starting point for assisting people explore ILO over SIL. These fundamentals are Belonging, Independent living, self-determination, flexibility, choice and trust.
So in conclusion, with changes expected and coming, a thing to ponder for SIL providers is - Will ILO model takes over SIL and is a major focus area of the agency to solve general crisis faced by SIL Disability Accommodation providers and participants in Australia? Certainly SIL will exist for participants with more complex needs as stated in the report however those who need flexibility and little care ILO opens exciting new range of possibilities than conventional SIL models. ILO provides more options and is built around individual choice Options.
We can wait, be ready and prepare ourselves for the changes coming and hope that the future of SIl under NDIS becomes only better for both participants and providers, as the scheme matures.
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Written by - Shoeb Patel
A Visionary, A Founder, A Manager, with extensive experience in Disability & Aged Care and a strong academic background in Aged Care Management, Business studies and General Management.
Extremely passionate about creating a society that includes, values and amplifies the voice of people with disabilities and Frail aged
Highly Interested in developing ambitious service delivery models and sustainable organisational structures in public health sector