“This is your taxi service. You have no more funds in your NDIS transport. How do you want to proceed?”
This is the phone call more and more participants and their families are receiving. It comes as a bolt from the blue because a participant’s Plan may be only halfway through. Why is this?
NDIA planners mostly insist in a participant’s Plan that the NDIS directly pay providers for supports. This means invoices are sent to the NDIA and payments are made without any contact with the participant.
In principle, this works. In the first lot of Plans in the Barwon region, there was ample funding for everyone. In the second year of Plans, funds were adequate. The focus was on community access with flexibility to meet different needs. But in the third set of Plans, funding was capped at one of 3 levels and participants and families weren’t told what this might mean. The possible impact of running out of funding for the rest of the Plan was not discussed. This seems odd when transport is so basic to community access and the goals and objectives that participants had set and were working towards.
After the phone call, participants and families turn to their Planner for guidance. What you then find are NDIA planners sometimes distancing themselves by responding with “It is your Plan”, “It is up to you”, or “We just make a contribution”. These responses are just the beginning of headaches that participants and families have to deal with.
For some, the NDIS ‘contribution’ is only half of the transport cost. Participants then cut out activities because they cannot afford to get to them. Some participants share taxis to keep fares down, but a co-passenger’s withdrawal means the taxi fares become less viable for the others. One person who had arranged to be one of four travelling in the same direction from a small town had one co-passenger drop out for health reasons, another change their provider, while the third gave some other reason.
For others, there are questions about how to deal with travelling between urban and regional taxi zones. A participant who lived in a regional taxi area with few community possibilities was wondering why they could not have a taxi driver who lived just 2 houses away take them to a program in an adjoining urban area.
There are other concerns too:
- A participant whose funding had run out was living in a residential home in one Geelong suburb while her aged parent lived in another. The NDIA could not assist with the travel of the participant to visit home once a week.
- A participant who attended day programs had run out of funding. In discussing this with a coordinator, the family were advised that the participant had flexible funding that might then be applied. Some participants’ plans had transport as fixed and others had it as flexible. It was not clear why there was this difference.
- A participant phoned by the taxi provider to say they were out of funds found that she still had funding. Her plan provided for transport under Support Item 10 001 and ‘Taxi fares beyond taxi subsidy’ under Support Item 10 003. She found that several providers were taking funds from the same Support Item while the other item was not touched. She also did not know details of trip charges because this information went to NDIA and not her. Trying to deal with the NDIA participant portal, find out what agency is taking out what amounts, and to find the balance remaining is no easy feat.
Taxis also play a significant role in all this.
- Jacinta Allen, Victorian State Minister for Public Transport, is expected to announce outcomes of the Multi-Purpose Taxi Program Review (MPTP, sometime referred to as the Half Fare program) by June. This will have huge implications for those relying on it.
- What happens when a participant is first in the taxi and their MPTP card is used? Does the full cost go to them? For shared trips, the card of the participant who will be there till the end of the trip (last person out) is used. This probably looks bad on the MPTP accounts of some participants, but does not seem to currently present a problem for them. In terms of NDIS funding, if there are 4 people in the taxi, the taxi service probably splits the bill by 4.
- Before the NDIS, there were arrangements with the taxi service in Geelong that meant participants travelling to and from day programs knew the fare they would be charged before they got into the taxi, regardless of the number of passengers and the venue they would be going to. This has all gone and now taxi travel is full of uncertainties.
- Taxi arrangements exist with Department of Veteran Affairs and it’s been suggested that these are running well. There has been criticism of NDIA for not being active in exploring whether such schemes could be adapted to the NDIS to meet the needs of participants.
Participants on Disability Support Pensions have limited capacity to meet the increasing gap costs they experience. Where participants genuinely do not have a capacity to use public transport, other than taxis, on their own, the NDIA decision to introduce funding caps has a significant effect for many on what is already low disposable income. To not ensure that planners work through with participants and families the impact of capping on the whole Plan is neglectful.
For the Geelong Family Network