Close to one hundred Canberrans with disabilities have had their lives disrupted after the Capital Regional Community Services (CRCS) discontinued programs due to changes in government funding.
Amendments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Price Guide have caused the indefinite suspension of 30 programs which were funded under the scheme. The CRCS, participants, and their families are now scrambling for alternative solutions.
Bernadette Wilson’s son attended the services for 12 years. She said creating connections in the community can be challenging for people with disabilities and the programs provided a supportive environment for these networks to flourish.
“These are meaningful relationships, it’s not just the activities, the activities are very important, and they are engaging, and they have been very inclusive, but it is the genuine connection,” she said.
“The issue is access to these connections. There are some people who require a degree of facilitation because their degree of disability is prohibitively difficult.
“We may be able to look at alternative ways of arranging opportunities for ourselves, but we are dealing with a group, a cohort, a friendship group that is going to find that difficult.”
Understanding sudden changes and loss can be significantly difficult for people with disabilities. During the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, Tanya said her brother who has down syndrome struggled to cope. She is deeply concerned about his ability to deal with the unexpected end to programs and the lack of alternative activities.
“These were his friends,” Tanya said. “These were people he saw every week for years. It was like a little family.
“His whole life is about the social interaction he has with those people. They went back for only a couple of months and then out of the blue with no discussion, no notification, not even mention they were in trouble.”
Mandy Green said programs including dance, drama, and art for people with disabilities have been discontinued.
CEO of CRCS Mandy Green said that the impacts of COVID-19 and the costs of implementing changes outlined in the Price Guide were not financially possible for the services.
“We tried until the 11th hour to find a way to continue providing the services but couldn’t find a way to make it work,” she said.
“Unfortunately, with significant changes to the NDIS Price Guide and the increasing complexity of support arrangements each year, we have to restructure our business and it’s just not economically viable now for us to continue delivering those services.”
The annually released NDIS Price Guide outlines changes to the payment system for programs funded by the scheme. Members of the Canberra community with disabilities attend programs at the CRCS, some using NDIS funding.
Member for Canberra Alicia Payne, who is also a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, is concerned by the impacts from the Price Guide on disability service providers.
“The NDIS Price Guide changes every year and for many disability service providers that means a significant restructuring of their business to meet those requirements,” said Ms Payne.
“It’s a common frustration across the sector and can take disability service providers away from the core business of supporting participants.”
A spokesperson from the National Disability Insurance Agency, which implements the NDIS, told Region Media that providers have the option to apply the new pricing arrangements for group-based support or continue using the previous model. Providers have until the 30 June 2021 to transition to the new arrangements.
Updates to the Price Guide were made after consulting participants and providers within the disability sector, according to the spokesperson. The NDIS has provided financial assistance through one-month advance payments and changes to price loading and cancellation policies through the pandemic.
Ms Green expressed regret over the cancelled programs and said she is in the process of contacting other service providers to find alternative options for participants. In the meantime, both staff and participants have received an email and letter explaining the situation.
The CRCS will continue to focus on advocacy work and finding a solution with the Australian Government to reopen programs, Mrs Green said. They are also working to redeploy eight affected employees. The other six workers have found alternative employment, commenced parental leave, or will be stood down on JobKeeper.