NDIS is an opportunity for all

NDIS is an opportunity for all

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is being rolled out across Australia, representing a multibillion-dollar business opportunity for contractors to begin operating in the disability space. Adelle King reports.

The NDIS, which was established under the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013, began a gradual rollout across Australia in July 2016 and is expected to be fully implemented by 2019 (2020 in Western Australia).

The scheme is a market-style system where government funding will go directly to the clients rather than disability service providers, allowing clients to choose their own providers based on individual needs assessments. It brings eight separate state and territory funding schemes into one uniform, national scheme to help people with a disability access mainstream services with informal support.

The 2017-18 Australian Government budget reaffirmed the Federal Government’s long-term commitment to the NDIS by fully funding the scheme and providing certainty not just for those who rely on it but also for contractors looking to deliver NDIS services.

The Department of Human Services predicts 460,000 Australians under 65 with a permanent and significant disability will receive funding under the NDIS by 2019 at a total cost of $22bn. This will fund the support needed for people with a disability to enjoy an ordinary life, including aids, equipment, personal care, domestic assistance, therapy, home modifications and more.

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which is responsible for administering the NDIS and managing participant plans, says the scheme will trigger growth for small medium enterprises and create between 37,000 and 46,000 jobs in NSW alone. The NDIA says the NDIS has been designed to stimulate innovative and market-driven responses, and will double the level of public spending on disability.

It is underpinned by a national consumer-controlled marketplace based on individual commissioning, which has enormous growth potential. As a result, the NDIS will produce a competitive market for services that are estimated to be worth $16bn a year, creating a number of opportunities, particularly in the building and plumbing industries, for contractors who respond to these new demand areas.

People with a disability have become a target market for contractors who can provide home modifications to enable clients to safely access and move around frequently used areas in their home.

Modifications that are funded as individualised supports under the NDIS include ramps, bathroom modifications, installed equipment, electronic doors, lighting systems, climate systems and changes to a buildings structure or fittings.

The NDIA must agree the modifications are ‘reasonable and necessary’ but the contracts with builders or plumbers are between the participant and the supplier and do not include the NDIA.

Building contractors will also be able to provide services under Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), which is funded under the NDIS for participants who have an extreme functional impairment or very high support needs. SDA provides funding towards the cost of the physical environment needed for eligible NDIS participants to live and receive their daily supports. It may include a purpose built apartment in a mixed development or a modified free standing house, which must conform to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) classifications.

“Modifications can help impaired people gain back their independence. Wider spaces for wheelchairs, single levels, ramps, hand rails and clever design that blends with modern buildings ensures homes are functional without appearing clinical. If the environment is adapted and made to suit the disability, the disability seems to disappear,” says Prendergast Constructions administrator Emilie Prendergast.

Ballarat-based Prendergast Constructions, which specialises in new homes, renovations, subcontracting and maintenance, became an NDIS provider in 2016 before the NDIS was rolled out in January across the Central Highlands in Victoria.

“We decided to register as an NDIS provider because we know first-hand the issues faced by people with disabilities. Our son was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was 16 and the effects of chemotherapy, radiation and multiple craniotomies caused right-sided deficits. He suffered a stroke in 2014 and has been working hard with rehab and normality since. We thought it was important to share our knowledge and experience,” says Emilie.

Contractors who want to provide services to participants whose plans are managed by NDIA must become a registered provider with NDIS online by completing a Provider Digital Access (PRODA) authentication process, submitting intent to register and providing proof of license and compliance with state/territory quality and safeguard arrangements. Once a company is registered as a provider it can begin marketing its services and engaging with NDIS participants to create new business opportunities.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18.5% of the population report having a disability, which means one in five people are now a potential customer for NDIS providers. It will take time for contractors to be able to leverage these opportunities though, as even in areas where the NDIS has been rolled out, such as Ballarat, people under 65 with disabilities are still funded by the government until June.

“June is when we’ll start to see major changes occur and I think it will be a learning curve for all of us. My biggest concern is that new providers coming in may not be properly qualified and will be coordinating the trades without having the knowledge to check the work being done is correct,” says Emilie. Existing Commonwealth, State and Territory quality and safeguard systems will still apply to contractors working as an NIDS provider while the NDIA works to develop a national approach with State and Territory governments.

Over time the NDIA says an open and competitive NDIS market will emerge that can operate sustainably to deliver the needs to individuals with a disability.

In the meantime, building and plumbing contractors can engage the services of disability access consultants who can help businesses involved in NDIS funded projects. Access consultant involvement would extend to helping contractors understand the design and development process but finding projects would be up to each contractor.

“A lot has been left up in the air while the rollout of the NDIS continues, so engaging someone with the appropriate skills makes sure everything is being done correctly,” says Equal Access senior technical advisor Adam Buzasi.

Equal Access, which is registered with the NDIS and provides specialist consulting services on a range of projects in the private and government sectors, has been working at the design stage with a number of providers involved in home modification. The company helps to ensure construction and alteration projects comply with all applicable access provisions, including the NDIS.

“There are a lot of little things, such as door hardware requirements, clearances in hallways and thresholds in doorways, which matter to people with disabilities that you don’t see in traditional residential buildings. We act as another measure to make sure all these are done correctly,” says Adam.

The NDIA predicts the NDIS will need to provide housing for 27,000 people with disabilities by 2020, which will require an estimated 12,000 homes to be newly built.

“The NDIS has definitely created a lot of opportunities for building and plumbing contractors and there are incentives to help establish a market to provide disability housing. It is also an opportunity for residential contractors to expand their knowledge base and scope of work,” says Adam.

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