NDIA hammered for records/email management

A Commonwealth Ombudsman's inquiry into Australia's National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), triggered by a surge in complaints over the time taken to process requests for assistive technology by the disabled, has zeroed in on records and email management practices as a source of delay.

The Ombudsman has recommended the NDIA implement a single national records management system "that allows staff to store, manage and retrieve all information relating to individual participants."

It has also recommended the NDIA close and consolidate its regional email inboxes into a central inbox.

In 2018–19, complaints about assistive technology constituted 13 per cent of NDIA complaints to the Ombudsman, compared to five per cent in the previous financial year. The most common issue in these complaints is the time taken to process requests. Participants and their representatives also expressed confusion about the process, and frustration at the lack of clear communication from the NDIA about expected decision timeframes.

The Ombudsman inquiry uncovered instances where requests for assistive technology had not been progressed due to the responsible NDIA staff member being on leave or having left the team or agency, without their work being reallocated.

To correct this, the Ombudsman recommended the NDIA include a workload management function in its new records management system and a implement a workload management process to "proactively reallocate or reassign work in real time, depending on the availability and caseloads of staff."

The Ombudsman also criticised knowledge management at the NDIA.

“During the investigation, we considered the existing and draft staff guidance material relating to assistive technology. This included standard operating procedures for different aspects of the amended assessment process, and an assistive technology task card and practice guide. We found the overall guidance for staff to be lengthy and difficult to navigate, with multiple documents involved, often directing staff to read and consider other material.

“From complaints, we have noted instances where the NDIA has acknowledged that staff have not followed existing polices or procedures. During our fieldwork, in October 2019, staff told us they searched for and accessed guidance material for their work on the agency’s intranet.

“The NDIA told us it is doing work on simplifying staff guidance. While this is positive, staff still need to be supported to easily access guidance while they are in the process of undertaking their work, whether this be for assistive technology or other aspects of the NDIA’s work. As the NDIA continues to mature into a national organisation, a knowledge management system similar to Services Australia’s operational blueprint would support staff in achieving efficiency, consistency and compliance with policies and procedures.”

The NDIA anticipates that at full scheme roll out there will be 460,000 participants in the NDIS. As at 31 March 2020, there were 364,879 participants with an approved NDIS plan. The NDIA advised that 25 per cent of participants had capital assistive technology supports valued at greater than $1,500 included in their plans and 77 per cent of participants had consumables (including low cost assistive technology supports) funded.

The NDIA has responded to the Ombudsman's findings by announcing that is embarking on a new Customer Record Management (CRM) system to be built over the next two years which will include centralised records management.

It is also currently scoping requirements for a new knowledge management system for the housing and publishing of guidance documentation.

All regional email inboxes have been closed and The National Contact Centre is now the central channel for consolidating all incoming communication.

Full report available HERE