Joint media release:
Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc and Gippsland Disability Advocacy Incorporated
AAT rejects NDIS Independent Assessment
In a recent decision the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has commented on the NDIA’s use of an independent assessor, stating “this type of therapist is not appropriately qualified” (for the purposes of disgnosis) and that the assessor’s understanding was mistaken.
In Ray v National Disability Insurance Agency, the Applicant sought access to the NDIS. Mrs Ray had provided evidence from multiple health professionals over a period of a decade, against which the NDIA provided the evidence of an independent assessor who had seen Mrs Ray once.
The Tribunal compared the evidence of the independent assessor and Mrs Ray’s treating psychologist Teana Barry, stating:
The Tribunal considers the observations made by Ms Barry are more reliable than those made by (the independent assessor), as Ms Barry has seen Mrs Ray on approximately 50 to 60 occasions, including out of the comfort and familiarity of her home environment, whereas (the Independent Assessor) had only seen Mrs Ray once for a period of three hours in her home environment.
The Tribunal noted that the opinions of the Independent Assessor were at odds with those allied health professionals who knew Mrs Ray and had carried out multiple assessments over an extended period, concluding that the Tribunal had:
“(lost) confidence that (the Independent Assessor’s) opinions were based on an accurate understanding of Mrs Ray’s background past achievements and her current state”.
Mrs Ray applied to become a participant of the NDIS in mid 2017. Whilst she is pleased with the decision of the Tribunal, she stated, through her spokesperson that she “needed the supports back then, years ago. The entire process has been long and very distressing. We expected the NDIA to do the right thing, but instead they sent a therapist into our home, and she didn’t listen to us at all. It has all been very stressful.”
Cathy Saleta, Disability Advocate for Gippsland Disability Advocacy Incorporated (GDAI) also welcomed the decision, but with reservations. Ms Saleta said:
“As Ms Ray’s disability advocate I am so happy for her to now access the NDIS and receive supports. Disability support will enhance Jenny’s quality of life, independence, and address the challenges caused by her disability. My NDIS access journey with Mrs Ray and her family has now extended to almost two years, and her journey is even longer than that with earlier reviews and rejected applications extending back the previous year.
I have been extremely concerned by the NDIA’s use of an independent assessor. Jenny provided extensive quality reports and personal experience accounts of her disability to the NDIA for its access decision. Despite this the NDIA inflicted an independent occupational therapist on Jenny, who travelled from Queensland to regional Victoria for a short assessment in her home.
It should be alarming to all stakeholders that a person living with disabilities must rely on an unfamiliar professional – one who was not chosen by them and who might not have a full understanding of the individual nuances of their disability – has the power to assess and decide on your needs and access to a fulfilled, happy, safe life.”
Naomi Anderson, lawyer for Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc (Villamanta) said “while the decision is an enormous relief to the family and all those who have supported them through this process, it also clearly highlights the risks of using a simplistic approach to assessment of people with complex disabilities.”
The NDIA recently announced their plans to refer all participants to a single independent assessor from next year.
“The NDIA’s current stance that treating health professionals are somehow biased in their reporting is disrespectful of the professional obligations of such individuals” said Ms Anderson.
“It is absurd to suggest that a stranger without appropriate qualifications can assess a person with complex disability in three hours and come to relevant and credible conclusions. We fear this will simply create a massive stream of applications to the AAT, with thousands of distressed and unsupported people in its wake.”