After much deliberation by governments, the NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation Rule has been made public. It is fitting that despite long wait, the NDIS’ rule on SDA should be released this week. This week marks almost 3 years to the day that Bruce Bonyhady spoke to a packed audience in Canberra’s Manuka Oval about how the NDIS can create housing for people with disability. The NDIA Chair spoke of how the NDIS’ funding for housing will soon flow to create new housing options for people with disability. 36 months later NDIS participants and providers will be finally breathing a sigh of relief that this essential funding will begin to create new housing across Australia. The short story is that the Rule is mostly consistent with the SDA Decision Paper. There is one big and important exception, and a couple of small change. The Rule also helpfully clarifies a few points that were unclear in the Decision Paper. Unfortunately, some of the detail remains unclear – potentially to be clarified through the NDIS’ operational guidance that can finally be released.

The Rule overtakes everything else to date

The SDA Rule is the new source of truth on SDA. The Rule has the force of legislation. Plus, it has been painstakingly agreed – every single State Disability Minister had to sign off on the rule. And changes to the Rule can only be made with their agreement. We are locked into the path set down by the Rule. The SDA Rule builds on the Framework for SDA that was agreed by all governments in November 2015  and the final Decision Paper in June 2016. The Rule does not include everything. Pricing plus a range of dwelling requirements and participant assessment tools are all set down by the NDIA. This gives the NDIA flexibility to change these requirements as we learn more throughout the roll out. But what the Rule says goes – the NDIA won’t have the flexibility to enroll a dwelling that the Rule says is non-compliant. The Rule can be accessed: see website link below 

Choice and control: Under threat by States maximising SDA revenue

Despite the SDA policy being extremely well designed overall, it is let down by the potential undermining of participant choice and control (and quality of life). It is hard to see any reason for this policy, other than protecting existing State interests and maximize SDA revenue. The big ticket concerning item in the Rule is the deal with States on ‘in-kind’ housing. In short, participants appear to be required to select any available ‘in-kind’ housing option before they choose another provider. Almost all in-kind housing is likely to be SDA properties owned by state governments. This means State Governments get first dibs on any SDA participant’s tenancy. Participants will be forced to accept an ‘in-kind’ offer before they can select any other housing option.

Will this matter in practice?

Probably not for providers. In the short term, there will be significant unmet demand. In-kind SDA properties are likely to have very few vacancies, and these will be quickly filled. Almost certainly for participants. In-kind SDA is almost all existing stock, most of it outdated and no longer appropriate for people with disability. It’s the group homes we all think of when we think of dwellings that need to be replaced in the NDIS. Essentially, any State Government that lists these as in-kind will be forcing participants to live in these outdated properties. These participants will be not be able to choose a new, technology-enabled, disability appropriate dwelling, but forced into old stock listed as ‘in-kind’ by a state government. This takes away the choice to live in a home of their choosing, a fundamental right under the NDIS Act and the Convention.

SOURCE: Bo’sher, Luke. “SDA Rule Released: The final source of truth.” Disability Services Consulting, 14 March 2017

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See also: Luke Bo’sher is hosting a SDA Webinar — Latest Developments Wednesday 5 April, 10:30 – 11:45am AEDT

BroCAP is produced by the two librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia.