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The Australian on fears for NDIS

Verity Edwards reports:

Disability plan must avoid UK mistakes

The over-regulation of the national disability insurance scheme could lead to the duplication of services and a blowout in costs without major improvements to the lives of clients, the co-author of a report analysing the British system says.

Julia Farr Centre chief executive Robbi Williams said yesterday that the federal government needed to heed warnings from the long-established British scheme to ensure it implemented a system favouring individuals, rather than introduce uniform regulations.

"I think Australia is in danger of rushing the NDIS legislation but the big risk is when they rush it they stick to what they know and that's transitional rules, and we lack what's going to be flexible and not always creative," Mr Williams said.

"We need some rules -- they're talking about $14 billion and we've all got an interest in how it's spent - but we need just enough rules to ensure the right people are getting assistance and help to improve their life chances."

Given the scale of the NDIS, Mr Williams said, there was a tendency to over-regulate to ensure funding and administrative controls would be adequate.

While the NDIS will have five trial sites assisting 20,000 people from July, the British system was built on 150 country-wide jurisdictions.

Mr Williams said there had been mixed success in Britain since various models had been implemented from 1996, because some regions were highly regulated and others were more flexible.

He said those using a simple set of guidelines had few budget blowouts, no increases in abuse, fewer people abusing the system and savings to the public purse.

"They'd go and buy things they needed and not have things bought for them they didn't want in the first place," he said.

Mr Williams co-wrote The Road to NDIS: Lessons from England about Assessment and Planning, with Simon Duffy from Britain's Centre for Welfare Reform.

The Adelaide-based Julia Farr Centre was designated by the federal government as one of two organisations to advise on the NDIS design.

When fully operational in 2018-19, the scheme will provide disability care and support to 441,000 people and cost about $15bn a year. But a government report acquired by the Centre for Independent Studies under Freedom of Information laws found the NDIS could cost $22bn a year, blowing out by more than $7bn.

Mr Williams said the NDIS could avoid a middle level of bureaucratic case managers - placing more reliance on the opinions of the client, carer or family. Funding should be flexible to cater for one-off needs, and reviews should be catered to individuals rather than be time-specific.

This article appeared in The Australian on 19 November here: