Updated: Sep 30, 2021
Agreements, contracts, a scope/schedule of service – terms commonly used for legal contracts & documents, signed upon by parties, as they engage to purchase services or products in today's real world.
Within this blog article, I will discuss service agreements in detail, more particularly in the context of NDIS services and what does NDIS service agreements entail generally.
As a registered NDIS provider of plan management service, we are often asked by participants and other suppliers/providers - is service agreement compulsory before commencing the NDIS services? as there are mixed ideas, some providers heavily emphasize it and some don’t even talk about it.
When it comes to NDIS agreements and whether you should be signing one in the first place, I should say - the answer depends upon many factors ex: who the service provider is (NDIS registered or unregistered provider), what type of service you are receiving from whom, the length of your service with the service provider while receiving the service in your NDIS plan, for example -
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 the industry codes but may not do service agreements in the format, as 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 understand about 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, other items from a superstore such as Woolworths, coles where you just get a receipt as proof of purchase.
SCHEDULE OF SERVICE - Some of the scenarios I have seen with some NDIS clients is that service providers do sign an agreement but not a schedule of service 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.
Besides all of the above said, I would still believe that it is important that two parties sign a document as they engage in any sort of service. This gives much-needed clarity in terms of what to expect from a service.
Someone with a mindset of agreements reducing the flexibility with services can have a mention within 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.
What is an Agreement especially in the NDIS context?
As we may know that an agreement is a legally binding contract. A document that is in writing and it states the terms and conditions, 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.
Is the service agreement – A Mandatory document under NDIS?
A simple answer to your question is NO - An agreement is not mandatory as stated by NDIA for any NDIS related services.
You must be thinking - Is it true? 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 it sounds amazingly odd, isn’t it? how is it possible that you be able to receive a service or a product, without having a document signed 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 is only required as a mandatory document when it comes to someone receiving Specialist Disability Accommodation Supports.
Almost all registered NDIS providers will insist on signing an agreement.
With non-registered providers, it may be different and it depends, upon the type of provider, 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.
No wonder why a huge increase in the number of plan-managed plans in the past two years. It was a shift expected by NDIA, during the early stages of the scheme's rollout, that eventually more plans will be plan-managed, partly to reduce the administrative burden of the agency.
Benefits of signing a service agreement
For both the participant and the provider, there is a multitude of benefits, to sign an agreement. 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 supports as written in the document.
All terms as written in the agreement are legally binding.
Some participants or providers may be of 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, it is a responsibility of a provider to create agreements in easy read English versions or in a format that the participant is able to understand.
If a participant is completely unable to process the information at all (in case of any mental health issues), it could be your nominee or guardian who can then get involved. For signing, 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 be that you get verbal consent over the phone and try to record the conversation with the consent of the participant. Very importantly, do share a copy of the agreement with the participant, irrespective of whether the document is signed or not.
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, 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 be understood by both parties, and is agreed upon by signing and must have no hidden elements or jargon - a full disclosure.
How can 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, 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 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 expiry.
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.