Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19 information for families and young people (NDIS participants 18 - 25 years and beyond)
Webinar – NDIS and COVID-19
MARY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this webinar. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we're meeting, and pay my respect to elders past and present, and also to any Aboriginal people who are on the line today. On the screen you will see Scott McNaughton from the NDIA and our two Auslan interpreters, Christine and Celeste. My name is Mary Sayers and I'm the CEO of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, and we're the national representative organisation for children and young people with disability in Australia. So thank you for participating today. We acknowledge that the COVID‑19 situation or coronavirus as it's more commonly known, has been incredibly difficult for all Australians, and we know young people with disability and their families have been hit hard by the situation. So not only is it about concerns around infection which has meant young people with disability and their families have been self‑isolating because they may be at greater risk from infection, but we've heard from you that we know daily life has become so much harder. For those of you who are either enrolled at school, TAFE or university or have been working, we know the move to remote work or remote learning has been incredibly difficult and we've heard from you about this. We would like to thank the NDIA for partnering with us on delivering these webinars and to provide the latest and most up‑to‑date information for young people with disability and their families. This is the third webinar that we've conducted over the last few weeks. Each for a different age cohort. And the other two webinars are available on our website for young children, as well as for school‑aged children. So today we're particularly targeting our information for children ‑ sorry, for young people who are aged 18 and above and their families, but if there's anyone on the line who has got younger children or a younger person themselves, there will be also general information that will be helpful to you. So we would like to acknowledge the work of the NDIA who have been working so hard to adapt and be flexible in these unprecedented times. And we look forward to hearing from Scott very soon. But just before we begin, I would like to go through a bit of housekeeping, if that's okay. If you can check your audio settings at the bottom of your screen to make sure your speakers are working well. The webinar also has Auslan interpreting, which you will be able to see on the screen along with the speaker. And the session also has live captions. They will be visible at the bottom of your screen. But if for some reason you can't see them, click the CC button at the bottom of your screen to access the captions. And, again, this session will also be recorded and available on our website in case you want to go back and listen again. If for any reason we drop off this webinar because the internet traffic is too high or other technology issues, please stay logged in and we will be back up and running as soon as possible. So in relation to today and what we will be covering, thanks for sharing with us the questions that you asked when you registered for the webinar, and we've compiled a list of the top 10 questions that you've asked, particularly in relation to young people with disability. We may not get to all 10. I'm hopeful we have. We have every session to date so I am sure we will. But you also may have new questions. And we're really happy to take those questions. So if you see at the bottom of your screen there's a Q&A function and you're able to submit further functions. Sorry, you are able to submit further questions and we do have a moderator who is online who can also help with those questions, and also at the end of our top 10 questions we will be able to answer some of your questions. What we won't be able to do is to go into specific circumstances or specific issues that you might be having but we can answer very general questions. And if there is any specific or circumstance questions, you can still ask it in the Q&A and we will provide that with your permission back to the NDIA so they can get in contact with you. And so please be patient as we get through your questions, and try to get through as many as possible. And I will continue to remind you to keep asking questions throughout the webinar. So it's now my great pleasure to introduce from the National Disability Insurance Agency the general manager of national disability ‑ sorry, national delivery, Scott McNaughton. And Scott has had a long and distinguished career in the public service, including working at the Department of Social Services, the Department of Human Services, and now the National Disability Insurance Agency. I also had the pleasure ‑ and I said this last time ‑ of working with Scott many years ago ‑ many, many years ago ‑ we won't say how many. So Scott will be providing a brief introduction to how the NDIA has been responding to the COVID‑19 situation. And then we will ‑ he will answer the top 10 questions and then we will go to the Q&A section. So I'm now going to begin that by welcoming Scott and asking him to give us an introduction.
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. And lovely to see you again. And thanks for the opportunity of being here today. We've certainly been working closely with Mary and the team at CYDA. Such an important time to get as much information we can out there to participants and families. I would also just like to apologise on behalf of our CEO Martin Hoffman. Martin did the first of the webinars with Mary but unfortunately couldn't be here today. I am more than happy to be here to represent the agency and answer as many questions as we can get through. Certainly, we understand that the COVID‑19 pandemic is a pretty unprecedented and challenging time for all of us. It's changing the way we go about our lives. We're spending more time at home. Our usual routines have changed, the way we interact with each other, the way that we can and can't get around community has all been significantly disrupted because of this pandemic. And it's really important that we give as much information as we can for people out there for our participants so they can continue to access the disability services that they need. And if people can keep getting their supports now, hopefully ‑ and we're starting to see a bit of this as the rules around physical distancing starts to be relaxed ‑ that they can then get on and access their quality disability services like they used to before COVID‑19. But it is really important, and I think this is a really common goal for all of us, that we're making sure that the health and safety of our participants, of our staff, of each other and our families is our highest priority. So we do have to listen to the authorities and the governments around social distancing, the physical distancing and doing the right things. We do need to minimise the spread of this virus. We've seen really good efforts around flattening the curve as they say but a little bit work to be done with that. So what's the NDIA been doing around this? What's the NDIA been doing to support people during this time? So there's a number of things we've been responding to. One is to try and give as much information to participants as we can and specifically about how they can use their NDIS plans flexibly to continue to access their supports. I will talk a little bit about this more throughout the webinar today. The other area that we've been doing some focus on is where we haven't been able to do a plan review with a participant for whatever reason, we're automatically extending that plan by 12 months. And that's a really important initiative. What it does is it provides certainty for people, it provides consistency that people can continue to access the supports that they need. We've also made some changes to allow people to use their plans and budgets more flexibly. And I will talk a bit about assistive technology in a moment. We've also got a dedicated phone line as part of our national contact centre. So it's a COVID related phone line. You can press 5 when you call our contact centre. And there's a team of specialists there who can answer any of the questions you might have relating to COVID, how to use your plan flexibly. We also have a team of planners there who can help with any plan adjustments that might be required because of the COVID impacts. Obviously, we've had to move our face‑to‑face planning to phone‑based planning. So first plan, plan reviews, all of those contacts that would normally be done face‑to‑face are now being done over the phone. And we've had pretty good feedback around that, really making sure that they're still quality interactions even though they're not face‑to‑face and that people are still able to access a good quality NDIS plan so they can get their supports. Another thing we've been doing is reaching out to around 62,000 of our more vulnerable participants. So we're phoning them, checking in to make sure that they've got the right supports in place, they've got the right information, that they're staying safe and well during this time. The other thing ‑ and some of you out there listening today might already have had this opportunity but as we're working with participants to review their existing plans, we're offering participants to extend their plans for up to 24 months, which allows even greater certainty and continuity of supports for our participants without having to come back each year for an annual plan review. Again, a lot of people are taking up that offer. I want to briefly mention online services and technology. We've heard a lot of really good and positive ways in which service providers have been adjusting how they're delivering supports during the pandemic. As they've had to move away from more face‑to‑face supports we're hearing providers doing a range of really good online things like online therapies, online dance classes, therapy in the home by a smart TVs, zoom therapy sessions, all sorts of activities where they're staying connected to participants through those online services, which is great. It's really good to hear those changes in practices but people can still access the services. But in response to that, we've also made and introduced a new policy that allows people more flexibility within their plans to purchase low cost assistive technology items up to $1,500 which will help participants maintain their supports. So if they need access to a device, an iPad or a tablet device and the provider says they need it to access their services they can use funding up to $1500 to access the technology. Usually that will be up to $750 as a cap for each device but nonetheless that should get people a pretty good standard device nowadays. So they can keep accessing the disability support that they might require. Because staying connected, we know staying connected is really, really important. And even though people are physical distancing doesn't mean you can't stay connected with your family and friends and your support providers, really, really important there. So really good to hear that people and providers are doing some innovative things within this space. I know there's a lot of questions to get through. I will wrap up in summary, Mary, that I just want to reassure people that if you or someone you care for, their support needs have changed because of COVID or whatever reason that is, you should be contacting your local area coordinator or contacting us and we can talk through your plan, how to use it flexibly. If need be we can make adjustments and do a review of your plan to make sure you've got the right funding in the plan. There is a 1800 number ‑ dedicated 1800 number with a COVID hot line within that number. So you can call our 1800 110 800 number and press 5 and you can talk to someone about COVID. You can talk to your local area coordinator or a younger child under the age of 6 talk to their early childhood partner. We can give you that advice about how to use your plan more flexibly. I think there's some really important messages Mary that everyone out there should follow and listen to. And stay connected to our website. We've got a range of frequently asked questions, we update them daily. And they're in response to common questions we're hearing from participants, from carers, from families and of course providers. So we're here to help give as much information as we can. It is a very difficult, a very challenging time for all of us, especially people with disability. We want to make sure they're getting the right information and supports. So once again, thanks CYDA for inviting the NDIA to participate today. I'm sure you've got lots of questions there, Mary, you might want to talk through.
MARY: Terrific. And thank you for that opening, Scott. The first question ‑ we've got a number of people on the webinar who may not yet be NDIS participants. And the first question was how can I get NDIS funding with the current pandemic restricting assessments?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. That's a really good question. I just want to assure people that the way people can access the scheme hasn't changed. So you can still submit an access request to us, you can still contact our 1800 number and do what we call verbal access request over the telephone and the team there can talk that process through with you, and just recently we've made our access request form and our supporting evidence form available on the internet. So people can now download that form. In fact, in the first couple of weeks we've had over 3,000 downloads of the form which is fantastic. Practitioners, GPs, specialists, allied health therapists, they can all download the form or you can download the form, complete it and email it to your therapist or specialist who can complete that and get that back to us. That can either be emailed or posted directly to us, and we can review your application, contact you if we need any more information. Otherwise we can process that. So that's been a really good initiative, as well as, of course, as I mentioned, contact the 1800 number, contact your local area coordinator. If it's for children under the age of 6 we encourage people to go through early childhood partners who can explain how the early childhood pathway works. I want to reassure people they can continue to access the scheme. You can lodge it or start that process via a number of ways, and if you're not sure, the easiest thing to do would be to contact us via the 1800 number and we can guide you through that process. So no change, really important that if you know of someone who you think might be eligible or you may be eligible you want to get more information, you contact us and we can explain that for you.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you very much, Scott. And obviously it's really important that people, if they want to apply for the NDIS, that they continue to do so, even though it is such a difficult time with the COVID situation.
MARY: So thanks for mentioning around the assistive technology items that are now ‑ because many of the participants who are in this age category either young people with disability or families of young people, many may be self‑managing their NDIS supports. And I was wondering if you could perhaps explain a little bit more about how people apply for the ‑ to get the assistive technology, and what it means for self‑management ‑ self‑managed participants?
SCOTT: Yeah. Thanks, Mary. I will give a bit more clarity around the policy itself and then the application process. So as I mentioned, it's really great to hear from providers and participants about how they're doing more things online so they can stay connected with their disability supports. That's really important. Hopefully they will be able to get back to face‑to‑face over time but it's really important that they continue to access those even if they are through those tele‑practice or online or zooms or those sorts of mechanisms. So in order to do this and help participants receive ‑ continue to receive their supports, we've temporarily broadened our policy around purchasing low cost assistive technology and Minister Robert announced this in late April. Participants can now use their existing funding to purchase low‑cost AT. If that device will help maintain their connection to their supports. So people will work with their provider. Their provider will confirm with us that the person needs access to this technology and their provider is delivering that service online. And the participants already have flexibility in their plans to access up to $1,500 in low cost assistive technology items. That can be a range. It doesn't have to be electronic devices. It can be a range of AT‑related items. However, most people won't need to spend more or shouldn't spend more than $750 on an electronic device. And this is in response to a lot of therapists and a lot of work we've done with various suppliers. Look, a good ‑ a good mid‑range tablet device is around $600 or up to $600. So you would be able to easily get a device for up to $750. And then people can use the rest of that money for other assistive technology they may need. To do that, what you do is you can use your existing core consumable budgets to purchase that device. So people have ‑ the majority of people have all got money in their core. Last weekend we made a change that made sure that the whole core budget was flexible besides the periodic transport budget which allows people to move money around within core much more flexibly so they can access that. So if you're plan managed or you're self‑managed you can purchase these items from any provider. They don't need to be a registered NDIS service provider. You can manage these from any provider. However, if you're agency managed you need to purchase a device from an NDIS registered provider, which is the same with any sorts of supports, but your support coordinator or your therapist or your provider of those supports can help guide you about where you can purchase those devices, and look at our provider finder tool on the website. You can find a local provider registered with the NDIS in your community who would be able to supply that sort of device for you. We do also, Mary, get a few questions from people about can we claim internet charges and data costs. And it's a really good question. But I just want to clarify our position on this because it does continue to be the scheme's policy, the agency's policy that daily living expenses like grocery, like rent, like bills, like internet charges, these are personal everyday expenses. As such, you can't use your NDIS funding for personal everyday expenses. So this ‑ this remains the policy of the agency that you can't use your plan on data but you can use up to $1500 on the purchase of a device and AT equipment, $750 on any individual device as part of that.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you very much, Scott. And I might just pause here because we've had a few more people join us on the webinar who may not have heard the introduction. If anything that Scott is updating you on is prompting any questions, there's a Q&A function at the bottom of the screen. Feel free to put your questions in there and we will be able to get to those at the end of our top 10 questions that we're going through today. So don't hesitate to put your questions in there and we're moderating that so feel free to do that. Scott, you mentioned about flexibility ‑ and thank you for updating about the additional flexibility that you've put in core plans. One of the common questions we get is can young people with disability or families transfer funding from one funding line to another which you've somewhat answered in terms of the core supports. You can swap between them. But between core supports to capacity building and to and from consumables. And I think that capacity building versus core supports one is a common question.
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. It is a common question. It's one of the sort of more regular question we get through our national contact centre as well. Where we're at at the moment between the three parts of distance plan, core budget, your capacity building capital and your capital budget, the core budget is the most flexible. For the most part you can use all of that funding flexibly except for those participants who might have what we call a periodic transport payment. So that's a fortnightly payment for transport related costs. That's not flexible. That gets paid into the participant's bank account each fortnight. But the rest of your core budgets are open which means that you can move money around, core consumables, any other type of core budget within that space. What we did over the weekend to make that possible we actually put a dollar in each of those budgets if people didn't have that already. What that does it frees up and opens up all of those budgets within the core for you to use very flexibly across there. So that's really good. Unfortunately, at this stage you can't use and move capacity building into core without us doing a review of your plan. This is something that we are working on and thinking about doing more flexibility over time but in the meantime if a person has core ‑ if they're starting to get very low on their core budget but they have capacity building budget and they would like to move it across, you need to contact us through our call centre and we can talk about your options and if need be review your plan to move that funding around. We can't move that around without reviewing the plan. That's just how the system's constructed for now. But it is something we're certainly doing. We're hearing from participants saying I would like to use more of my capacity building in core, can you help me with that, and we're able to do a plan review, talk to the participant, get their agreement and move that money around. So contact us. That's why we've got that team of planners who are aligned to our call centre who can then have that conversation with the participant and move that money around. Your capital building ‑ capital funds, they're not flexible. They're usually for a vehicle modification or a home modification or high cost capital such as wheelchair or other high cost assistive technology. So that's the intent of that, of course. But it's more around the core budget that's most flexible. So if you do have concerns that one of your budget items is running low, please contact us and we can give you some advice around how we can either review the plan to move money around or you can use it more flexibly where you can.
MARY: Thanks very much, Scott, for clarifying that. The next question really will be quite important for this cohort that we're talking about today and the young people who are on the line as well as their families, is around the transition for students moving from school to their post‑school experience. We know this year has been a very disrupted year and many young people might be finishing year 11 and 12, maybe looking to transition either into further education or into work. What additional supports or processes are being put in place to support the transition of students at this time and helping people understand their options?
SCOTT: Yeah, it is ‑ it's a really important year, isn't it, and, you know, my firsthand experience of this my eldest daughter is doing VCE. I got a text from her this morning. We're in Victoria here. They said year 12 students could go back. She was rapt. We've had our ups and downs with home schooling with VCE. I know very much firsthand how important this year is for people in sort of later part of their school and thinking about their next steps. And things like university open day or TAFE open days, and things ‑ and career counselling, things that students this year really rely on, you know, haven't happened as much as they would like to. I know that's increasing a lot of anxiety and concern. Hopefully as school starts to return and some of the physical distancing rules start to relax there will be more and more opportunity for those. But what I wanted to talk a little bit about is how important this is and the NDIA's response, because we do know what an important life event it is in terms of turning 18 or transitioning from school or work, whatever age that might be. There's a couple of things we're doing and have in place. First and foremost we have a support item within the NDIS, it's called the school‑leaver employment support. It's SLES. I will call it SLES from now on. So SLES is a support item we provide for young people with disability to help with that transition from school to work. And this funding is designed to help create that pathway as people make that transition. But it really recognises that everyone's pathway is different and it might start at different times. Because people might leave school at different ages, people might leave school and go straight to work, some might do vocational training, some might do other courses, some might go to university, some might work with their family or in open employment or various things. So everyone's transition is different. This support item is to help with those transition. For some people we really encourage this concept or this principle of trying and testing. So how you can engage through work experience in different ways, how you can try different ways of doing employment and, you know, testing what you might like to do in your life. But the other thing that the SLES program can provide support for is capacity building activities like developing team building skills or travel training, or helping to keep time and social engagement in the workplace, and building resilience for maintaining a job. Those sort of really important life skills are something that we're very keen to see part of that transition. So if you ‑ if you're coming up to that age or stage in your life as people are moving from school to work, talk to your local area coordinator or ask our planners around the school‑leaver employment supports how they might assist you to maintain that connection, and, you know, manage that really important time. Employment is a really important focus for the NDIS as well. Late last year the Minister and board announced the NDIS employment strategy. And this is around increasing the number of NDIS participants into work, supporting those transitions, working with the employers to increase their confidence in their ability to attract and retain and employ people with disability. Making sure we're putting the right supports in people's plans and also making sure the agency and the public service is a good employer of choice for people with disabilities as well. It is a really big focus for us and something we want to continue to work with the likes of yourselves so we're providing opportunities for people to make that important transition. So my key message on this, as well as a range of other Commonwealth Government programs which I am sure people have heard of such as the Disability Employment Services Program which is providing over $3 billion over the next four years to help provide support for people with disability connect to employment, there's the Australian disability enterprise, the ADE programs, that police around 20,000 people in this country with more moderate to severe disability, and there is a range of other job access programs. What we might do, Mary, is send you all that information and link you can post on the website or make those connections to as well. But my key message here is absolutely agree and understand the importance of this transitional period for people. You need to talk to your local area coordinator, your support coordinator or talk to us to make sure you've got the right supports in your plan to help with that important transition. Because it is really, really important to get this transition period right and we're acknowledging that everybody's transition period will be different.
MARY: Thanks, Scott. We have had a question come in ‑ and just because it's so related to SLES I might not wait till the end. But the question was who provides the SLES service and what sort of providers provide that.
SCOTT: That's a good question. So there's a range of providers who are registered to provide SLES‑type supports. And really, that can change depending on what area you're in, I would encourage you to have a look at our provider finder and you can look up school‑leaver employment supports and you can see the local employers who are doing that. They are usually providers who are really good at connecting people understanding the transition to work‑type programs, understanding the need to build people's capacity, understanding local job markets and how they can work with participants around their personal employment journey. So people have got those sorts of skills are usually those who are in the market of SLES. But you can look up all your local SLES providers in your local provider finder tool.
MARY: Thanks very much, Scott. Certainly if anyone is on the webinar who hasn't looked into this, we're certainly happy to direct people to the right information. This one is related again to education. And we know that many young people with disability are still in school or in TAFE or in other educational programs. Can we ‑ NDIS funding be used to flexibly support the transition back to education as schools go back to ‑ education providers go back to more favour in that transition?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. Another good question. Very topical especially as we're seeing schools across the country ‑ State Governments across the country make decisions around that transition. And they're all at different stages. We know that schools are responsible for ensuring that all students are transitioning back to school. As well as providing online education, the transition period is really important. So really encourage parents out there and students out there to talk to your teachers around those transition arrangements. And our priority is to make sure that people continue to get access to their right disability supports to help with that transition. And if that ‑ some of the things that we're hearing is around parents using funding within their plans to get support workers to help with their disability support needs while they're at home. With any of those transition capacity building activities to help with transition to school, also become the school's responsibility for once they're in the school settings but certainly support workers and providers can work flexibly with participants around supports they might need at the home around capacity building to help with any immediate needs or any of their transitional needs. So really important. It will create uncertainty transitioning back to school. For some people it means back on to public transport, back into travelling to and from school. We know that can create some anxiety so talking to your providers, talking to your teachers, talking to your therapists and others who are engaged as part of your plan to help minimise that anxiety and work out what supports you might need to help with that transition.
MARY: Fantastic. Thank you very much, Scott. And just a reminder to everyone on the line please keep sending your questions through to the Q&A. We've got some good ones coming up. So feel free to put your question in there. There's no question that's too small or too large. So put it in there and we will do our best to answer. Scott, the next question is about housing in terms of supported independent living. And this comes to the COVID‑19 directly. And what ‑ and supported independent living we often call SIL. I will use the acronym. What additional responsibilities do SIL providers have with regard to hygiene activities in light of the COVID‑19 situation and how can we be assured they carry them out.
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. Really important that we provide good assurances for participants who might be residing in SILs, as well as their family members and carers. The national NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has been doing a lot of work with providers providing regular advice and information around their requirements to deliver quality services and supports for participants. And we do know that participants who are residing in supported independent living their support workers they may often come in close contact with them. So personal hygiene, cleanliness, it's really, really important. So the department of health and quality and safeguards has done a lot of good work on infection control, on proper hygiene and care during this time, and they've actually done a lot of online courses and information made available for workers and so forth. Real important also that providers have their own infection control plans in place that they have their protein standards and they're following those through, accessing PPE when they need to through their own supply or medical stockpile, really, really important. The other thing the agency has done within the NDIA what we've done is created a new support item which is available for SIL providers in the event ‑ and touch wood they don't need this ‑ but in the event that a participant that is living in a SIL location happened to contract the coronavirus, what would happen is that the providers can then claim for the higher level of intensive supports, they can claim for professional cleaning, and other supports that they might need to provide for members within the property ‑ other participants who are in the property. So that's a new support item that we put in place. As I said, touch wood hopefully people won't need to draw down on that additional support but it is there. Something we've made available. Really important. The other thing I wanted to quickly mention ‑ because we do know that some people who are residing in supported independent living aren't able at the moment to go and access their social activities or the day programs and other activities they were doing in community because of this distancing. Where the SIL provider steps up and provides some of these on an ad hoc basis, that will be covered as part of the SIL process. But if that's becoming more regular, the provider of the SIL and the participant and their support coordinator can come to an agreement where that provider can start to claim some of those costs. We're making sure that they're delivering good community participation for the participants during the coronavirus pandemic. So that is another opportunity to make sure people can still access community if their regular community providers aren't able to provide that support. So really important getting back to the original question that providers are getting all the information they need from the quality and safeguards, and department of health, they're following through their own infection control plans making sure their staff are following through their own training and got all the advice they need to ensure that they are doing everything possible to minimise the risk of infection and the spread of the COVID‑19 virus.
MARY: And look, Scott, there's a related question that has come through the question and answer line around ‑ and I don't think this is just relating to SIL but it's all disability support workers. The question is does the support worker have to wear PPE equipment while assisting them.
SCOTT: It's a very ‑ another really good question. Really encourage people to follow the advice of the department of health around when we should be using personal protective equipment or PPE. Because the evidence shows that not everyone will need to use PPE. It is usually those who are in close regular personal contact with a participant or a person. And there is some really good guidance. I would encourage you to have a look at that on the department of health's website. What the government has done is made sure ‑ and we heard in the first few months, and I understand across the world there was a shortage of PPE equipment. And Australia wasn't immune to that shortage. But what we've seen is increased supply, more people making PPE equipment now which is fantastic and more PPE is now available in the country. We have what's called a national medical stockpile. And the government has set aside some of that stockpile for NDIS ‑ for NDIS providers. So that's up to 500,000 masks now available for the disability sector for primary health sector and the NDIA and the NDIS providers. So I would really encourage providers out there to get ‑ contact the Department of Health if they need equipment, need PPE, that they can contact the stockpile via the Department of Health and get access to the PPE equipment they need.
MARY: Unmuted ‑ I will unmute myself. Yeah. So I think the message you're giving is that PPE equipment or personal protective equipment is now available fairly readily for support workers and for people, yeah, with disability. So thank you. The next question is really important for young people with disability in terms of their social supports. And obviously we've all been impacted by a loss of social supports or activities outside of the home, bearing in mind that physical distancing has had to happen. How is the NDIS helping participants to maintain social support networks at this time?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. And it has been a big change. It really has been a very disruptive change for people the normal routines, the way we normally connect with people. We've had to adjust and it's been quite challenging. So really important that we try and stay connected. I like the language shift personally, that it wasn't about social distancing, it was about physical distancing. And the language is important here because we really do encourage people to stay socially connected even though they might be physically distancing. So you can stay socially connected through all of those channels. You know, your social media, your phone, your emails, you know, talking to people over zoom and Skype meetings and all those other ways we do that. So reach out to people, stay connected. Check in and make sure they're doing okay. Really, really important during this time. Within the NDIS, again, hearing some great things that providers are doing. Online dance programs, online cooking classes with participants, online therapy or gym‑type activities. Really good ways in which participants with their friends online can be participating in a workshop like this with their provider doing some really good activities. So reach out. If your provider isn't offering those type of supports, there are providers out there. So, again, check them out on our website through our provider finder or talk to your provider about how they can do this because we have seen hundreds of really good examples of how providers have offered online activities to keep people connected. So we think that's really, really important. You know, as governments start to relax these rules as they are, that's great but you've got to do that in a safe environment, follow the rules, don't rush out and ‑ you know, create second waves and things. Let's do it properly but we just need to make sure we're maintaining those connections with people as best we can.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you, Scott. Certainly the ability to be outside and exercise outside and be outside with more than one person is really important and many of the States have been relaxing some of that because often it might be a family member, a support worker and a person with disability who want to get outside in the park together to do some outdoor activities. So certainly that should hopefully ease some of those connections in the next little while. The next question really comes to reviews during this time, and there has been some concerns about how reviews might change because of COVID‑19. Could you perhaps outline that, Scott?
SCOTT: Yeah, thanks, Mary. Really good to clarify this because we get a lot of questions around, "My plan is coming up for review, what's going to happen?" So a couple of ways we're supporting this. Firstly if for whatever reason we haven't been able to review your plan, we haven't been able to get in contact with you, or whatever, there has been some other circumstances, your plan will not expire. It will automatically extend for a further 12 months. So you will be able to keep getting your current supports. So that's a really good change we've put in place at the start of this COVID‑19 pandemic to make sure that everyone could continue to get their funding. What we are doing is we're also contacting participants and talking to them about their plan review options. For some people they're really comfortable with their current plan and they're actually providing advice back to us that they would like to have their plan extended as it currently is for another 12 months or even 24 months, because they've got good stable supports, they've got good informal supports around them, everything is going pretty well in terms of their disability supports, so they don't need to come back in every year for an annual review. We know that can cause stress and anxiety. So they can have a longer plan and get on with their lives. And we will keep regularly checking in on people, of course. Some people saying, "No, I need to have a full plan review. My circumstances have changed. I am now in my school to work transition. "Or something else has happened in their life that requires a full change of their plan or full review of their plan. So we are doing those full reviews over the telephone, so their local area coordinator will book a time with you, talk you through the options and they will go through the full plan review just like you were doing it in a face‑to‑face environment except we will do it over the phone because of the physical distancing challenges. So, look, there is no change to this. We want to make sure that people continue to get their plans. We want to provide people the opportunity to have longer plans if that suits them and if for whatever reason we haven't been able to do your plan, we will review it or extend it for 12 months so you can continue to get the supports you need. We're getting good feedback. We've seen more and more people, Mary, taking up having longer plans, two year or even three year plans. I think that's a good reflection that people are now at a place they're pretty comfortable with their plan, know what they want to achieve over the next year or two. They don't need to come back for annual reviews with us but as I said we will check in with them to make sure things are going okay.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you, Scott. Do you need to take a breath? Yeah, and just a reminder to everyone, keep your questions coming. We will have a little bit of time at the end to ask some questions. And so feel free if anything has come up that has prompted a question, to put it in the Q&A box. The next two questions ‑ final two questions are around funding. The first one you've kind of touched on a little bit about what happens with funds that aren't used and will people be disadvantaged if they can't use a large proportion of their funds because of COVID‑19. And there was a particular question that came up that was related to that around the SLES two year period as well if they haven't been able to use their SLES because of the COVID‑19 situation. So if you could answer, perhaps, that generally as well as potentially that question as well.
SCOTT: Yeah. I will, Mary. I will cover both those off. The key message here is that you won't be disadvantaged. If you haven't used your funds because of COVID‑19, because you haven't been able to access all the supports you would have normally accessed, you won't be disadvantaged when it comes to plan review. Because we know that some services have stopped or changed. People might have liked the online therapies but they had shorter therapies rather than longer online sessions. So they're not using as much of their budget. Maybe in the back half of the year or the back half of their plan they can increase that but we understand that's been a very normal occurrence as part of the COVID‑19. So what we do at the plan review is have that conversation. We understand what's happened during COVID. We all know. We're all living through it. So what we really do is just make sure that you've got your ongoing supports you need, the disability related supports you need. It's not about what you haven't spent, it's about what you need moving forward. And as I said, that's one of the reasons we are extending plans for longer periods of time so people aren't having to worry about having that ‑ you know, the anxiety that's caused. Now, for SLES, exactly the same response. We know that's a two‑year period around the SLES funding. If you haven't been able to access that because we know we've probably lost a few months this year in terms of what we all would have liked to have been doing, to some extent. So there won't be any issue with that. If we need to extend that a little bit further to make sure we can catch up later on, then that's a conversation we will be having with our LACs and planners around that.
MARY: Terrific. And the last question before we go to our general Q&A was around the decision around the 10 per cent price increase that service providers can now charge and we understand that that was to help service providers in this really difficult time. But some of the participants are worried that their plan is being used up more quickly because of the 10 per cent COVID price increase but their plans were not increased. What can they do about that?
SCOTT: Yeah. Just want to really reassure participants, Mary, that if their plan is getting used up because of that 10 per cent rule or 10 per cent price increase, I should say, if we need to review a participant's plan to increase their budget because of that, we will review the plan to increase the budgets. Generally, most people in the scheme don't spend 100 per cent of their plan each year. So we think there is some flexibility anyway because of this time‑limited 10 per cent loading and cancellation fee change. So we're hoping that it won't require or people won't spend all of their plans because of that. But if they do, as I said, contact us. And we will talk you through the options, including increasing your plan if we need to because of that 10 per cent loading. So, no, people won't be disadvantaged because of that. We will reassure participants out there we are very conscious of that. Hopefully you will be able to absorb that within the context of the plan overall. We expect most people will be able to do that. But if not, then we will talk to you about reviewing your plan to increase the funds to cover that.
MARY: Terrific. And I guess there was some concern from self‑managers as well who their support workers were not eligible for job keeper as well. So the message I'm hearing from you is if people's plans are starting to be fully utilised because of that, to get in contact with you and that the agency understands this issue.
SCOTT: Yes. Contact us and we can talk through those circumstances with you for sure.
MARY: Fantastic. Another question that we had come up on the line ‑ so we've finished our 10 questions. So thank you, Scott. That's a hell of a lot of information to get through. We have still got some questions to get through. We will try to get through as many as we can but we are ‑ we will be working with the agency after these webinars to feedback the questions so that as Scott mentioned, the FAQs can be updated so people can continue to get information that they need. One of the questions was around how the NDIA is working with the local area coordinator partners to make sure they're fully abreast of the changes you're making centrally, and what sort of ‑ when there may be a difference between what the LAC says and what your information on the website says.
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. This is something we invest a lot of work in this, our local area coordinator partners, our staff in the National Contact Centre to make sure they've got all the latest information. The information is being updated fairly quickly in the COVID response. We were responding almost daily with new frequently asked questions. We published that out to our local area coordinator networks, our contact centre staff as well as all of our planning staff across the country. So they've got access to all the same tools, all the same information on our intranet, frequently asked questions, all the same resources so that they can get that information. If there's a big change, what we will do is we will bring all of our local area coordinator partners together virtually in a big forum like this and we will talk through the change. And we did this with the changes to the assistive technology, for argument sake, is a good example of that. So these are the sorts of strategies we're using to make sure our local area coordinators have the same information as our planners, contact centre staff, etcetera, so we can all have the same message. If there are challenges, talk to your local area coordinator, contact us at the contact centre and we can clarify that for you.
MARY: Fantastic. Thank you, Scott. There was another question about the capacity and the core. So you mentioned that you couldn't move funds from capacity building to core. Can you move it the other way, from core to capacity building is the question?
SCOTT: Good question. At the moment we're not able to do that. Unless we do a review of the plan. So you don't have flexibility to move your core into capacity without contacting us, talking to us, our local area coordinator partners or our contact centre who can then talk through your options and then talk about if we do a plan review with your agreement to move that money. You can't actually do it without a plan review.
MARY: Okay. Thank you for clarifying that. That was certainly a question. We do have time for one or more questions if people want to answer anything in the Q&A. I guess one of the things Scott I will take off the record or on the record is what have you found ‑ I certainly have found in this time, you know, the joys of working with people online. And what have you found that's been valuable for you during this time in your work?
SCOTT: Yeah. It's been very, very interesting. I think one of the things that we're really proud of as an agency is we've been able to continue to provide good quality service to participants reaching out to the 62,000 more vulnerable participants to check in on them, making sure we're still being able to bring new people into the scheme, make access decisions and first plans. We've moved a lot of our workforce to work from home as well. We're really proud we've been able to do that. I've become quite au fait at using Microsoft teams and zoom and things I had never heard of before which is really interesting, and the one thing I've heard and learnt from my 18 year old members of the jury ‑ 80 year old mother is nothing beats catching up for a cup of coffee. None of this technology works for her at all and I'm old school like that too. I think more and more as we're allowed to get out across the country and connect with people physically, in the right constraints, of course, catching up and having a coffee or a drink or whatever you do with people, I think we're all looking forward to doing that again.
MARY: Fantastic. And, look, just the last question that we've probably got time for is can ‑ again, this is about the flexibility and it might be the same answer as what we had ‑ can funding for capacity building ‑ so improved daily living ‑ be moved to capacity building improve relationships without a plan review. So it's moving within capacity building.
SCOTT: There is not as much flexibility within the capacity building budget for that either. There is the ability for support coordinators to use funding across those buckets a bit more flexibly. But there's not the flexibility for individuals to move that money around as much as we would like to. These are things we're considering moving forward how we can create more flexibility but at the moment there's not as much flexibility for that as we would like, and we hear that participants are asking for. You can talk to ‑ if you've got a support coordinator, you can talk to your support coordinator who has some ability to claim against different line items within those budgets.
MARY: Terrific. Thank you. We fired some pretty difficult questions at you today, Scott. So thank you very much for providing that feedback. And thank you to the agency for all the work you've done, and I think a key message I've got from you today, Scott, is if you're at all concerned get in touch with your local area coordinator, get in touch with the agency, and there's that special COVID number. Could you perhaps repeat that COVID number again because I can't remember it just so people have got that.
SCOTT: Yes. It's 1800 800 110. And you press 5 for COVID.
MARY: Terrific. And thank you very much. I would also like to thank Christine and Celeste who have been our Auslan interpreters. Thank you very much for your assistance today. I would like to thank Helen who is online doing captioning. But also thank all of you for registering for today's webinar. The agency has been getting our feedback very regularly and we will continue to work with them to make sure any questions you've got can be answered. So thank you very much again, Scott. Thank you everyone for being online. And don't forget if you want to listen back to this, it will be online on CYDA's website in the next 24 hours. So thank you very much.
SCOTT: Thanks, Mary. Bye everyone.
MARY: Thank you.