Make or break decisions that determine what support is provided to people with disabilities under the NDIS are being made by inexperienced, overworked and underqualified planning staff, as well as a system that doesn't have enough funding or understanding of what supports are available, a new report has found.
Under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a person who is deemed eligible for a plan is then assessed for what support would be provided, but participants in the scheme can face inconsistencies in decisions for people with the same type of disability - "even, in some instances, between siblings with the same disability type," the report said.
The report, from a joint parliamentary committee led by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, made 42 recommendations backed by members and senators from the government, Labor and the Greens.
Barriers to access, inconsistency and the extreme difficulty of navigating the administration of getting a plan under the NDIS have been some of the major criticisms of the scheme, and the National Disability Insurance Agency that administers it.
"I want the committee to get an understanding into how unimaginably stressful planning is - the stakes are too high," one submission said.
"Planning determines so many things about my life and the NDIS has absolute control. This can never not be terrifying for anybody who is severely disabled."
The committee heard evidence that in some cases planners had listed people's disabilities incorrectly, or incorrectly recorded their goals or what other support was available to them.
"Planners, the committee heard, were sometimes unaware of participants' disabilities and were relying on internet search engines for their information," the report said.
"In addition, planners may be ignoring or changing expert recommendations provided by allied health practitioners about the supports that are appropriate for a particular participant."
The government has signalled major changes to the way people are assessed for support for the NDIS, with plans to introduce an independent assessment process that would seek to standardise and speed up the approval of plans - but this has already been met with fierce resistance in some corners of the disability community.
Minister for the NDIS Stuart Robert welcomed the report and said the reforms already under way would make the system "fairer, faster and more flexible".
"These reforms, in addition to the already significant improvements to wait times, deliver on this road map and will set up the NDIS for the future - an NDIS that works for everyone. The reforms will deliver greater flexibility for participants to spend their plan funding on disability-related supports," he said.
"More guidance about the boundaries of the NDIS will also be provided, including what should and should not be charged to NDIS plan budgets. The reforms will improve information-gathering required for decision-making, notably at no cost for participants and those applying to become participants."
There is also a focus on improving early intervention for young children, supporting best-practice, family-centred approaches that will allow young children and their families to access the support they need earlier.
Greens disability spokesman Jordon Steele-John, said the evidence heard by the committee was particularly frustrating as the problems were long-standing.
"The recommendations put forward by the committee overwhelmingly speak to the need to invest more time and resources in ensuring that the planning process centres on the participant," he said.
"Disabled people and our organisations need to play a central role in co-designing processes and metrics for evaluating participant experience."
Senator Steele-John said information must get to participants more quickly and the process must be transparent and accessible, as well as include more communication and collaboration between state and federal systems.
"But most importantly, there must be more disabled people in planning roles within the NDIA, and much more comprehensive training for NDIS planners who are already in the system," Senator Steele-John said.
Labor's spokesman for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, said the total of 42 recommendations on top of the 14 in an interim report earlier in the year showed just how broken the system was.
"Under Stuart Robert the NDIS - which has had $4.6 billion ripped out of it - has become dysfunctional and chaotic," Mr Shorten said.