With only 42 percent of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants in the Northern Territory receiving funded support under the scheme, renewed questions have been raised about its workings in remote areas.
The NDIS, which is now fully operational in the Territory's Barkly region and was rolled out on 1 January in east Arnhem Land as well as for people in supported accommodation in Darwin, provides eligible participants with funding to spend on their choice of “reasonable and necessary supports” to help them lead a more ordinary life, the report said.
Only 42 per cent of the Territory's 155 participants who have approved plans had received payments, as compared to three-quarters of participants in the West Australian trial site, which had been running for the same duration, and the 79 per cent of participants nationwide, ABC reported.
Damian Griffis of the First People's Disability Network said advocates have long had concerns about how the scheme would function in remote areas where there were few staff and services on the ground.
“One of the fundamental challenges is that you can have a plan done, but if there's nothing to purchase then it's meaningless," he told ABC.
"And this is not the fault of the NDIS per se, this is just indicative of how much work is required to build the capacity of the disability service system in the Northern Territory."
Jane Prentice, assistant minister for Social and Disability Services, said it is more challenging to implement NDIS in remote areas, and that the 42 per cent figure did not necessarily mean the scheme was not giving its participants support.
"It just means payments haven't been made, so that's got to be a question in itself ̶̶ are people providing services and not being paid properly?" she said.
She cited the problems with the NDIS payment portal earlier in the year.
"There probably needs to be more analysis of 'are people activating those plans,' and I understand that they are, and if they are, why aren't the providers getting paid?" she said.
"So that's probably a question we need to get on to with NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency)."
An NDIA spokeswoman said there has been an increase in the number of registered providers in the Northern Territory ̶̶ from 42 to 111 over a three-month period from June to September 2016, the report said.
Griffis said that remote areas still struggling to build a market and workforce would benefit from a more flexible, “whole of community” approach to service delivery.
"There's no doubt that the NDIS has to look different in the roll out in the Northern Territory, there just isn't the choice that exists in metropolitan Sydney in terms of services," he said.
"What we need to do though is invest in communities themselves so that they can be the supports for their own community members with disability."
The spokeswoman said the scheme's roll out in the Territory was designed "using a community-by-community approach... to ensure the NDIS is delivered in a culturally sensitive manner," ABC reported.
Last financial year, over $25,000 worth of grants were handed out by the agency to local organisations for raising awareness about the scheme.
NDIS is expected to support 6,500 people in the Northern Territory when it becomes fully operational in 2019, the report said.
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