Updated: Sep 7
People with disabilities or their carers who are connected to NDIS would have heard the terms such as a Service Agreement and/or a scope/schedule of service. NDIA highly recommends having one if you are an NDIS participant and are receiving support from providers under the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia.
These documents contain important information regarding the supports and describe the terms and conditions, pricing, volume of supports, and how the ndis supports will be delivered. Once formed, they are meant to be signed by ndis participant and the ndis registered or unregistered service provider.
Within this blog article, I aim to demystify the concept of NDIS service agreements in detail, more particularly in the context of NDIS services, and also highlight what should be covered under an NDIS service agreement, if you are signing one.
As NDIS plan managers and support coordinators - we come across a question from ndis participants quite often - What if I do not wish to have a service agreement signed?
We know there is this confusion out there and it is mainly because ndis participants get confused with the mixed information available from different types of ndis service providers. There are some who highly emphasize having an agreement signed and there may be some providers who are easy without having it.
Being an NDIS registered provider for support coordination and ndis plan management support - we highly recommend ndis participants to have a NDIS service agreement.
So why is there so much confusion and difference in information?
This is because the actual process of doing an agreement depends upon who the service provider is (NDIS registered or unregistered provider), what type of service you are receiving, and the length of your service with the service provider while receiving the service in your NDIS plan. So, let's look at each factor in a bit of detail -
TYPE OF PROVIDER - A person with a disability may tap into services from a provider who is not an NDIS-registered provider. These could be businesses that do not necessarily just operate within NDIS. As a business, they may be following all good practices and industry codes but may not do service agreements in the format, you expect a registered NDIS Provider may do.
SCOPE OF SERVICE - Service may be one-off only such as a one-off cleaning by a cleaner who is located just down the road or someone you know. In such cases, he either lacks the capacity for admin and maybe has nothing to do or understands NDIA rules but does good business practices, where just a verbal agreement and a Tax Invoice are proof of services delivered.
TYPE OF PRODUCT/SERVICE - Purchasing consumable items such as gloves, pads, and other items from a superstore such as Woolworths or Coles where you just get a receipt as proof of purchase.
SCHEDULE OF SERVICE/SUPPORTS - Some of the scenarios I have seen with some NDIS clients is that service providers do sign an agreement but do not have a schedule of service signed as they would have realized that the schedule of service for the client is going to change each week based on the needs and hence for them to lock a schedule, means not being able to offer flexibility or make a change every time service need changes.
So overall, I would suggest that if the length of service that you are receiving from any service provider out there is more than one day - it is extremely helpful to have both parties sign an agreement unless it is a product that you are purchasing off the shelf but in that case, you would expect having a quote or receipt - won't you?
Basically, I suggest getting some form of evidence in writing as proof that you purchased a service from a service provider or a product specialist, and it not only helps to trace back should it be required or if ndis requests for information in the future but it also gives much-needed clarity in terms of what to expect from a service or a product.
We also come across participants who hold the view that having agreements may lock them with one provider for an extended period. this is not the case as within NDIS all providers should have a maximum 14 days to 1 month notice period to exit the service. Also, some participants are of the view that having an agreement may reduce the flexibility with services should they wish to change it in a given week or fortnight - I would suggest that having an agreement can still provide flexibility as such changes can be added as notes to the schedule that services may change based on the client's needs and service charges to be claimed as per the daily records or the case notes when the service days or times needs to be extended of course if you shorten the scheduled shift, this may be considered as late notice cancellations but you can often speak to the provider to know their shift cancellation terms and how flexible they are with it as each provider can be slightly different.
What is an Agreement especially in the NDIS context?
As one may be aware - an agreement is a legally binding contract. A document that is in writing and it states the terms and conditions, and clarifies the scope, volume, quantity, pricing, and responsibilities of both parties, along with other necessary information such as cancellation fees, GST charges, etc.
In short, this is the document that gets pulled out, should there be a dispute or confusion, and hence seemingly a vital document. this is why NDIA highly recommends having one as it adds clarity and keeps the service provider and recepient on one page.
Is the service agreement – A Mandatory document under NDIS?
As one may have noticed from the above explanations provided - a simple answer to this question is NO, "An agreement is not mandatory as stated by NDIA for any NDIS-related services."
You must be thinking - Am I reading it correctly? Well if you are from a different industry or are new to NDIS, obviously you will receive this as a shocker. However, there are reasons why NDIA didn’t make it mandatory.
But still, it sounds amazingly odd, isn’t it? how is it possible that you are able to receive a service or a product, without having a piece of paper stating about it in writing? Well, you need to have some form of proof for sure and NDIA highly recommends having an agreement but does not direct it as a mandatory document to have.
It becomes mandatory only when an NDIS participant is funded for and receives Specialist Disability Accommodation Support.
However, I am of an understanding that almost all registered NDIS providers will insist on signing an agreement.
With non-registered providers, it may differ and it may depend upon the type of provider, and the type of service. We have seen clients verbally agreeing to services with providers. To receive services from non-registered providers, your plan must be either a self-managed or plan-managed plan, which then gives you the flexibility to choose any provider even if they are not a registered provider. Of course, it adds more options, and hence no wonder why a huge increase in the number of plan-managed plans in the past two years. NDIA did expect that as the scheme matures, more plans would be plan-managed.
So what are the benefits of signing a service agreement
As mentioned earlier, there are a multitude of benefits, to ndis participants and service providers alike. Some to list are as below -
It formalizes the relationship between the participant and the provider.
It ensures that both the participant and the provider have the same expectations of delivery of the support as written in the document.
All terms as written in the agreement are legally binding.
Some participants or providers may be an understanding that it is a time-intensive process or sometimes the person with a disability is unable to sign or is unable to read or understand the agreement. However, NDIA has clearly indicated that it is the responsibility of a provider to create agreements in easy-to-read English versions or in a format that the ndis participant is able to understand and help the participant understand the agreement on what they are expected to sign.
If a participant is completely unable to process the information within an agreement (in case of any mental health issues), it could be the nominee or guardian who can then be involved.
To make it faster and easier to sign, we have seen providers asking for just an email consent in writing if signing physically is too much of a time-intensive process or it may occur that you get verbal consent over the phone and try to record the conversation with the consent of the participant. Very importantly, in any case, once the document is signed physically or verbally accepted by the participant - a helpful tip I can suggest to providers is to share a copy of the agreement with the participant, nominee, or person responsible, irrespective of whether the document is signed or not. This helps to keep a record of what was agreed and for the purpose of record keeping and if participants need to clarify anything in the future, a provider can pull out the email sent as a reference.
If you completely dislike the idea of an agreement, at least have some form of written email acknowledging the expectations of the engagement. No matter how you agree (whether it is emails, text SMS, etc) include some details around the agreed duration of the service, prices, how can the changes be discussed and made, timeframes for notice of the change, and how to end or terminate the service, etc.
What is the difference between Schedule of Service and Service Agreement?
A schedule of service (usually one page) is a document that details quantity and timings. Furthermore, It also details the service type, NDIS code for the service, volume/quantity, days and times the service will be provided to the NDIS participant, and may also detail who or a person with what skill will provide the service.
On the other hand, a service agreement (usually multi-page) is a document that mostly contains all the terms and conditions relating to the service delivered. These include responsibilities of both parties, cancellation and billing terms, dispute handling, etc.
Some providers may have them separate. So it is expected that you sign both during the start of your service and then each time you only sign the schedule when a change of circumstance occurs. Much easier this way, as you do not have to go through a lengthy multipage document again and again for small changes or when your plan changes or resets (typical with NDIS).
Is there any Specific NDIS Service Agreement Template that a provider has to follow?
No, there are no such set-specific templates available that you can download or are made available by NDIA. One can be as creative as they wish to design a template agreement as long as it covers all conditions and terms as required by fair trading rules, more specifically is easy to understand by both parties, is agreed upon by signing, and must have no hidden elements or jargon - a full disclosure.
How can a service agreement help solve confusion or issues if any?
The service agreement should contain contact details of the provider - such as name, phone number, and email. This should be made easily accessible on a page visible.
An agreement should also guide a participant, on how to contact NDIA directly should they have to escalate their query or grievance, if not resolved by the parties.
It is best to speak directly to the person in charge first and try to solve it locally.
Are the Service Agreements Legally Binding contracts?
Service agreements are covered by the Australian Consumer Law and are enforceable by law if promised services are not executed.
Are NDIS Service Bookings different from Service Agreements?
With the contest of NDIS services, a service booking is a process that is completed on the portal and is a process by which a service provider books or locks the funds after the agreement is signed.
Such bookings are done by NDIS registered provider for a particular service item as per the scope and volume of services agreed within the agreement; so that the provider can reserve the funds until the agreement expires.
For the plans that are plan-managed, service bookings are done by your plan manager. This type of booking by the plan manager is done at a category level as opposed to a line item level, offering greater flexibility for participants to change services within a category without having to make adjustments to the agreements.
For those who are self-managed, there is no need for participants to do service bookings, as the payment can be directly made to the providers from the participant portal.