Jess Murray is a qualified social worker with experience both as a Local Area Coordinator and a Support Coordinator.

At review meetings, it’s the LAC or planner’s job to ask why you have any leftover funding – it’s all part of finding out how to best tailor your new plan to your exact needs. Your Support Coordinator may also ask you this in preparation for your review, especially if you only brought her on board part way through the plan period. Whether you are re-funded again for the same kind of unspent supports depends on a range of factors, and there is no universal answer to this, but here are some scenarios that might help put your mind at ease (names have been changed).

I had bigger problems to deal with…

Bob was referred to me for support coordination. Bob’s biggest hurdle and number one plan goal was to find suitable housing. At his review meeting, the planner asked why Bob had not been supported to use his small amount of core funding for assistance at home and in the community – the answer was quite simply that he was homeless, and utilising this funding had been the least of his worries when he wasn’t sure where he was going to spend the night. I had offered many times to link Bob with a provider, but he had declined each time, stating that he already had too much on his plate with the mainstream services he was engaged with, plus trying to hold down a job. Bob did not completely lose this funding in his next plan, but was instead asked how much he thought was realistic, and asked the planner for two hours a fortnight of support to read his mail and pay his bills. So he received less, but this was his preference.

I was in hospital for an extended period of time…

Christine was a young lady I met in my time as a LAC, and I conducted her review meeting. Christine lived at home with her family and attended day program five days a week. Christine had just had a really tough year of complex health problems which saw her in and out of hospital for about six months of her plan period, so a large amount remained unspent. When building her plan, I provided justification to NDIS that Christine had all intentions of being at day program five days a week, but could not help that her health got in the way. Christine was not planning on spending another six months in hospital, so her day program funding was approved again at the same level.

NDIS systems are not always accurate…

Jim was referred to me for support coordination. He lives in supported accommodation and has high medical needs. The planner in Jim’s review meeting showed me her system was registering a lot of unspent funding, however when I cross checked with his providers, they assured me they were up to date with their claiming, Jim had been living in the house all year, and they sent me screen shots of their provider portal to prove it. This was a case of NDIS internal systems not being up to date with the reality of the funds being claimed from them. I was able to forward this information to the planner who was then able to see it was all up to date. Jim was again funded at the same level.

I don’t want that kind of support…

Kane was referred to me for support coordination and had funding for supported employment. He has a mild intellectual disability and was working in a lawn maintenance crew where he really developed a flair and love for the work…so much so that he left supported employment and worked with a friend to start his own small business mowing lawns. At review the planner asked why the entire budget had not been consumed – Kane stated “I wanted to work for myself on my terms. I don’t want that kind of support anymore.” Kane did not receive funding for supported employment again.

Family circumstances…

Haziq is a support coordination client from a CALD background whose only informal support in Australia is his mother. He comes from a culture where family is extremely important, so when his grandfather took ill and passed away, he and his mother both had to fly back to the grandfather’s home country to support their family and participate in funeral rites. This was very easily explainable at the review meeting, and he did not lose funding as a result of it.

Nobody helped me…

Particularly in my time as a LAC I met many people who told me they had leftover funding because nobody told them what it was for or how to use it. This is not your fault, and especially if it’s your first plan you should not be penalised for it. However, if it’s been a few plan cycles and you are repeatedly saying this at review, a LAC or planner might read between the lines here and interpret what you’re saying as “it’s not important and we chose to go without”, aka “I don’t want that kind of support.”

Hearing that nobody helped you understand your plan makes me sad. There are two sides to this coin: yes someone should help you implement your plan and explain the components to you, but if they don’t – don’t settle! Knowledge is power, and if you can’t get an answer out of your LAC or your support coordinator or even the person on the front desk at the NDIS office, keep asking! Ring the NDIS 1800 800 110 call centre and ask an operator to explain it to you, read the NDIS price guide, go to your neighbourhood or community centre and ask if anyone knows anything about NDIS, get on Google, ask your Facebook friends, ask your neighbour’s cousin’s stepkid if you think they might know something. Don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer from anyone without replying “Well can you help me find out?”

Your plan belongs to you, not your planner, LAC, or support coordinator. Your LAC and your coordinator can talk you through what you can do with your plan, they can show you options, but they can’t choose for you. You are in the driver’s seat. The key to not losing funding is to prove it remains reasonable and necessary – to bug your providers for reports and letters of support, and get your support coordinator to write a report and/or come with you to the review meeting.

It’s absolutely crucial to remember that NDIS funding is all about you!

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