Complaints Management Under the NDIS

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced in mid-2013 to facilitate a support system for disabled Australians. In many ways, this has begun to streamline and simplify the process whereby many thousands of Australians under the age of 65, who have sustained a permanent and residual disability, are able to access healthcare services. But what happens when the system goes wrong and complaints need to be made about behaviour occurring within the purview of the scheme?  


Broadly, the NDIS is governed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (Cth). It is administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which holds all funds in a single pool, manages funds, administers access and approves the payment of support packages. The NDIA Board, which is advised by the National Disability Insurance Scheme Independent Advisor Council, ensures the strategic direction and general performance of the NDIA. 

The NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework has been set up to ensure a nationally uniform approach as to how participants of the scheme will be assisted and supported. 

The NDIS Complaints Commissioner, the NDIS Registrar and the Senior Practitioner hold important roles in the complaints process under the NDIS.

Providers who wish to operate within the NDIS must:

  • Comply with all state and federal laws
  • Participate with the NDIS Code of Conduct
  • Engage in the NDIS Resolution Process

mandatory reporting regime

In NSW, the Disability Inclusion Act 2014 requires mandatory reporting for serious incidents of abuse or neglect of the disabled in the supported group accommodation setting. If this is suspected, an investigation must take place. 

Any such serious incidents must be reported to the NSW Ombudsman within 30 days of the incident occurring. 

In Victoria, The Department of Health and Human Services has developed a new Client Incident Management System (CIMS) to improve the safety and wellbeing of clients. In addition, they have recently established a Reportable Conduct Scheme (RCS) under the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 to improve on how organisations prevent and respond to allegations of abuse. This came into effect on 1 July 2017. 

According to the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework (released 9 December 2016), once the NDIS has been rolled out and takes effect, registered providers must notify all 'serious incidents' to the NDIS Complaints Commissioner.

These include: 

  • Fraud-related incidents
  • Alleged physical or sexual assault by an employee against a resident or scheme participant, or by one participant against another while both are in the care of a provider
  • Obvious neglect
  • Serious unexplained injury
  • The death of a scheme participant (This must be notified regardless of how the participant died)
  • Unauthorised use of restrictive practices

It is particularly important for employers to monitor staff to ensure that they are compliant with their obligations under the NDIS, and other legal frameworks.

How the ndis complaints procedure works

Generally speaking, any complaints regarding providers of NDIS-funded support systems go directly to the Commissioner, who triages cases and makes an assessment of who should deal further with the complaint. 

The Commissioner will also:

  • Investigate serious incident reports
  • Review breaches of the NDIS Code of Conduct

In order to undertake this role, the Commissioner has commensurate powers of investigation and information-sharing with appropriate industry bodies. 

In the event that the Commissioner does not wish to hear a matter, the NDIS Registrar is empowered to hear matters related to non-compliance of requisite standards by providers under the NDIS. 

Finally, the Senior Practitioner is entitled to hear matters relating to:  

  • Inappropriate or unauthorised use of a restrictive practice
  • Unmet disability support needs. 
The Commissioner is also entitled to refer matters to such external agencies as considered necessary, including the police, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) or other relevant regulatory bodies. 

Individual participants of the NDIS who are self-managed can make complaints about providers directly to the Commissioner. This complaint mechanism can be utilised even if the provider is not directly registered with the NDIS. Further, complaints may be made to other industry bodies, such as AHPRA or industry-specific organisations. 

The ability to make a complaint is also not limited to recipients of services under the NDIS - any person can make a complaint about an action taken by a NDIS provider. 

A separate complaint process is required if a scheme participant is concerned about decisions made by the NDIA (as opposed to inappropriate behaviour being engaged in by a service provider). 


It is a requirement for NDIS providers to have in place an effective internal complaints management scheme, and they must commit to maintaining a detailed schedule of complaints received and responses proffered, specifically in order to assist the Commissioner if necessary. 

Employees who report inappropriate behaviour or otherwise raise concerns about their workplace to the Commissioner are entitled to whistleblower protections as enshrined in the relevant legislation.


In the event that employers or providers of NDIS-related services are not complying with the applicable Code of Conduct, the Commissioner, or the Registrar can step in to review the provider's adequacy. 

In addition to assessing providers against adherence to the Code of Conduct, the Commissioner will consider whether providers have duly complied with mandatory reporting requirements, or have otherwise had complaints made against them. 

If either the Registrar or the Commissioner determines that a breach has occurred, the provider may be required to undergo additional education and training, operate subject to various conditions, or in the worst circumstances, be excluded from participation in the NDIS. 

It is essential for providers of services under the NDIS to have a strong complaints management focus in order to ensure ongoing compliance with the requirements of the NDIS and NDIA. If your organisation has received a complaint of disability abuse or other concerns relating to your management and implementation of the NDIS, and you require assistance with a workplace investigation, contact us

When the Line Blurs: Restrictive Practices vs Assault

Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It is well-known that certain industries, particularly those involving disability or aged care services, have a higher than average level of client-facing risk. This is in part because consumers of these services generally have higher levels of physical needs, and may also have difficulties expressing themselves clearly or consistently.  

As a result of these unique care requirements, occasionally situations may arise where restrictive practices are necessary either for the client's own safety or to protect another person. 

However, employers and care workers must ensure that their actions do not exceed reasonable restrictive practices and slip into behaviours or acts, which could be considered assault.   


According to the Australian Law Reform Commission, the definition of 'restrictive practices' are actions which effectively restrict the rights or freedom of movement of a person with a disability.

This could include physical restraint (such as holding somebody down), mechanical restraint (for example, with the use of a device intendend to restrict, prevent or subdue movement), chemical restraint (using sedative drugs), or social restraint (verbal interactions or threats of sanctions). 

Restrictive practices are intended to used in situations where a person is demonstrating concerning, or potentially threatening behaviours. In the disability services context, this may involve people with significant intellectual or psychological impairments, but no or limited physical impairments, meaning that threats of violence could be credible and have significant effects.

Although restrictive practices are currently legal in Australia, according to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) factsheet, they do not currently constitute 'best practice' for disability support.


As with any situation where the personal liberty of people is affected, the use of restrictive practices can blur into the use of inappropriate levels of force and potentially even expose the disability worker to accusations of assault. 

While the greatest concern with restrictive practices would be the possibility of disabled persons being intentionally abused, it is very easy for the line between restrictive practices to be unintentionally blurred. 

Although assault is defined slightly differently in each Australian state and territory under criminal law legislation, broadly, the offence involves circumstances where intentional and unwanted physical force or contact is used against another person. It can also include verbal behaviours, which are considered threatening. 

While the line between the use of restrictive practices and assault may not be immediately clear, conduct is unlikely to be considered to be an assault if it can be demonstrated that the actions taken, even if they involved the use of physical force, were necessary to avoid violence or any risk of harm.


    The provision of disability services is a challenging industry at the best of times. It's important to ensure that your team is using restrictive practices appropriately and in the right circumstances to avoid any allegations of assault. 

    Any employers who are advised of accusations of assault must undertake a full workplace investigation in order to fulfil their dual obligations to their employees and to their clients. 

    At WISE Workplace, we have experience in the disability and aged care sectors, and our team can assist in all aspects of workplace investigations.   

    A Perplexing Problem: Protecting Children Overseas

    Harriet Witchell - Thursday, April 20, 2017

    Every year billions of Australian dollars are provided to fund aid projects overseas. The money is targeted to assist developing countries with education, housing, health and community projects. Naturally children are a prime target group for these aid programs.  The majority of these organisations are funded by the Australian public via donations and government funding provided to not-for-profit organisations, many of them faith based organisations.

    International rules and expectations govern the protocols for handling and responding to allegations related to child protection, however, enforcing these laws is a tricky business often involving multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies who may disagree around responsibilities and liabilities.

    Policies and procedures are not enough to protect children who are by definition amongst the most vulnerable in the world.

    Small operations, voluntary management and high dependency on the goodwill of front end service delivery mitigate against strong child protection regimes. Poor oversight due to long distance, remoteness and cultural differences are also key features of this problem.

    Funding bodies in Australia are expected to have high quality child protection systems and policies in place to gain government funding but the challenge of enforcing or even providing adequate training in the expectations to the end providers of the service can be beyond reach.

    Now that we know that we cannot unquestioningly depend on the nature of goodly people to act without harming children, what cost do we place on the need to provide secure safe environments for children receiving charitable services?

    Documents provided to the Guardian relating to the level of abuse within detention centres on Nauru demonstrate the abject failure of outsourced government funded programs. How then do we expect small voluntary projects to be faring against these standards?

    It is clear that policies and procedures are woefully inadequate yet how much of the donated money do we want spent on compliance when it comes to protecting children?

    WISE Workplace is regularly requested to undertake investigations of allegations made against staff overseas who are working or administering charitable projects. The work requires a high level understanding of the environment, the agency, funding requirements, boards and community management structures, and the local culture and cultural background of staff and service recipients. The work remains some of the most challenging to investigate. Weak employment relationships can lead to inconclusive outcomes and an inability to enforce any restrictions on volunteers in the field.

    For those organisations with managers in Australia trying to manage complaints or allegations arising from activities overseas, using the support of experienced investigators can be a godsend melding the investigative skills of experienced child protection investigators with the cultural and service delivery expertise of the coordinators working for the agency.

    Our top 10 list of must do’s if you are a coordinator of a charity funded project overseas:

    1. Nominate a single contact person with responsibility for dealing with complaints related to child protection within your agency

    2. Have clearly articulated Child Protection Standards and Guidelines

    3. Have clearly articulated procedures for dealing with complaints

    4. Understand the criminal law in the country of service delivery

    5. Understand the employee relationship between the funding body and the service providers on the ground

    6. Know your legal obligations under your primary funding agency agreement

    7. Respond quickly to complaints

    8. Conduct a risk assessment and take protective action if necessary

    9. Identify a suitable contact person on the ground in the foreign country to be a liaison pain

    10. Seek specialist help when complaints are serious or complex to investigate.

    WISE Workplace runs regular training programs on the principles of undertaking workplace investigations. Our facilitators have extensive experience and expertise in managing all kinds of challenging investigations including running operations overseas via Skype using local contacts. Our unique Investigating Abuse in Care course provides valuable skills in how to assess complaints, reporting obligations, drafting allegations, interviewing victims and respondents, making decisions and maintaining procedural fairness. Book now for courses in May 2017.

    Unexplained Injuries in Care – 3 Tips for Investigators

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, March 29, 2017
    unexplained injuries in care

    It goes without saying that injuries occur in all workplaces, not just the community sector. Yet there are certain unexplained injuries within care environments that should receive particular attention.

    We set out our top three 3 tips for investigators when confronted with an unexplained injury allegation in aged or disability care contexts.


    Those charged with investigating claims of abuse by carers have a challenging task. Both circumstances and injuries can be ill-defined, with sometimes little to go on in terms of firm evidence. This is due primarily to the nature of childcare and other care environments – vulnerable people often have difficulty explaining that workplace violence hasoccurred.

    Patients can be in a frail or vulnerable state for example, with high dependency on assistance with personal care. Bathing, dressing and feeding in sometimes tight spaces with over-worked staff can lead to a number of unintended injuries for both carers and patients alike. The complexities are substantial. However, the need to fully understand when an injury is a reportable incident under new legislation is vital.

    Clients and family members might point to an unexplained injury and assume that the care environment is to blame. Yet investigators should assume nothing as they take careful stock of the facilities, mechanisms and personnel involved in that particular care arrangement.


    Good investigators know to treat everyone equally during workplace investigations. We maintain a professional demeanour and ensure that all relevant people are heard. Yet communication by investigators in the aged and disability care can require a unique approach to objectivity.

    Clients or family members in these environments can express shock, outrage and complete certainty when it comes to the investigation of an unexplained injury. And investigators themselves might be emotionally swayed when faced with allegations of child abuse, elder abuse or disability abuse.

    However, an unexplained injury is exactly that – unexplained. Taking into account the communication needs of the client, the tangle of information supplied by families, plus available documentation at the workplace, it is critical to refrain from drawing any inferences throughout the investigation.


    We need to take into account the particular communication needs of those vulnerable individuals claiming elder abuse, child abuse or disability abuse by a carer. For example, specific communication technologies, scribing assistance, emotional support and/ or advocacy services might form an integral part of investigations into unexplained injuries.

    It is essential to understand the nature of the assistance and make objective determinations around interviewing methods. Questions might include: is the scribe or support person related to the injured client? Does the client appear both willing and able to engage with the interviewer? Is there any visible fear, withdrawal or discomfort?

    As a corollary, it is vital to avoid any dismissive or patronising communication techniques when interviewing the person in aged, child or disability contexts. We should never assume that they cannot or won’t communicate – particularly if someone else in the room tells us this! As well as having to sport an unexplained injury, it would be disappointing indeed if the injured party leaves an interview feeling ignored, pressured or misunderstood.


    Workplace investigators must be extremely careful not to jump to any conclusions when an unexplained injury arises in aged or disability contexts. Keep in mind our three top tips on understanding, fairness and communication in care environments. This will help you to create and manage the best possible workplace investigation. After all, Australians are known for looking after each other well, and a good investigation can ensure that unexplained injuries in the caring sector are dealt with fairly at every turn. 

    Our upcoming must-do 2017 investigation training will give you the best possible tools for tackling unexplained injuries in aged and disability care. Join is there, or get in touch to access our top-selling Workplace Investigation Toolkit, plus other professional resources to assist your investigations. 

    Does the NDIS Complaints System Have Enough Reach?

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, March 08, 2017

    For those vulnerable people across Australia living with disability, the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been heralded as a much-needed security net. And for those caring for disabled individuals, the NDIS provides a framework for sustainable care arrangements. 
    In many ways, the introduction of the NDIS is the ultimate ‘good news’ story. Essential services and funds for disabled individuals can now be accessed. Particularly, the types of care that exhausted families have provided around the clock can now be augmented by paid carers under the scheme. 

    Yet such a vast and complex scheme necessarily requires safeguards against unfortunate phenomena that can arise in care environments, such as child abuse, elder abuse or other forms of abuse by carers. 

    A responsive and effective complaints system is an essential adjunct to the NDIS, which will eventually sustain some 460,000 disabled Australians under the age of 65. As at February, 61,000 Australians have been brought into the scheme.

    How the NDIS complaints system operates

    The NDIS complaints system is intended to help participants in the scheme provide feedback, or make complaints about their own experiences or the system in general.   

    There is some concern, however, that the complaints system is a somewhat toothless watchdog. Individuals suffering with a disability can lodge a formal complaint about a care provider, for example, but the care provider can at most be removed from the list of scheme-approved providers. There is no mechanism under the system for more significant sanctions.    

    This may be appropriate in circumstances where the care provider has simply provided poor treatment or has an unpleasant manner or clash of personalities with the recipient of care, but falls far short of the mark in circumstances where, for example, there is abuse or unexplained injury.  

    On such occasions, the scheme participant may have to look to other procedures to try and address any serious grievances.

    What other mechanisms for complaint are available?

    In NSW, if a person living with a disability in a residential facility suffers a reportable incident at the hands of a care service provider, that incident must be investigated and reported to the appropriate Ombudsman, in accordance with the Ombudsman Act 1974.

    A reportable incident includes the commission of sexual offences or misconduct (including those committed in the presence of the person suffering the disability), assault, fraud or financial abuse, and ill-treatment or neglect by a carer. Unexplained injuries also fall within the same category of reportable incidents.  

    However, this only covers those clients who are living in residential care – and misses the many participants of the NDIS who rely only on in-home services.  Similarly, there is no legislation which provides any requirement for a ‘suitability to work with disability services’ check, unlike the child protection legislation now effective in NSW, the ACT and Victoria. 

    Those utilising aged care services are able to rely on national reporting schemes, but regrettably even a carer who has been conclusively found to be abusive or otherwise guilty of misconduct is not restricted from being able to obtain employment with another care service provider in the future.

    Effectiveness of the system still uncertain

    Given the potential risks of abuse within the system of allocating a carer to a disabled Australian, it is essential that the NDIS is paired with an effective and efficient complaint and resolution scheme. 

    Ultimately, the current NDIS complaint service has significant room for growth before it can be considered to be effectively safeguarding the rights of disabled Australians. True improvement will play out most importantly by imposing greater penalties and consequences on carers who are found to have transgressed against their clients in any serious fashion. 

    As the NDIS matures as a scheme, it is to be hoped that many teething issues with the complaint management system will be ironed out naturally.  

    However effective investigation of incidents relating to abuse as soon as they are reported or otherwise come to light will remain the most important safeguard of the rights of disabled Australians, along with general prevention of potential abuse or misconduct by carers through a strong governance and policy regime.   Contact us about our specialised Investigating Abuse in Care training courses.  

    Abuse by Carers - Defining a Sad Reality

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, March 01, 2017

    It is quite clear that employers in aged, disability and other care environments do their best to keep staff and clients safe, yet one dark phenomenon that can raise its ugly head in care contexts is abuse by carers. For many complex reasons, vulnerable people such as the aged, children, and disability clients, can be abused by the very people who are entrusted with their wellbeing.

    ‘Abuse’ is a broad term that has developed multiple sub-definitions in recent decades. We have seen the basic idea of physical abuse making room for more complex forms such as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and disability abuse. As Australia has witnessed via the recent Royal Commission, child sexual abuse has a truly distressing history. 
    When an allegation of abuse by a carer arises, investigating the abuse objectively becomes a number one priority. Reportable conduct legislation is now developing across all states and territories; it is essential to understand definitional issues as reportable incidents arise.

    Physical acts and omissions

    Assault is perhaps the most common of the physical offences experienced in care environments. Rough handling of a client or patient can occur in any number of scenarios such as moving, changing, bathing, providing medication/ injections and feeding. And omissions such as failing to provide food, warmth, medication or post-fall assistance can also amount to offences of neglect. We often see this neglect as a form of abuse of the disabled or elderly. Feeding and changing neglect can also occur as a form of child abuse in care environments. Establishing what is truly accidental versus what is indisputably abusive is a very difficult task indeed.

    The question of intent is certainly difficult, and investigations of abuse must weigh the elements involved in defining reportable conduct. For example, what appears at first glance to be abuse might turn out to be an accident or one-off omission.

    Sexual abuse and manipulation

    It goes without saying that children are one of the most vulnerable subsets of society, particularly in care situations (whether due to disability or family circumstances). Children are also frequently the target of sexual abuse or its precursor, grooming.

    In almost all occasions of longer-term sexual abuse, the perpetrator undertakes a grooming process, designed to obtain the trust of the intended victim.
    These behaviours can include paying undue attention to one specific care client, engaging in keeping secrets, purchasing gifts or trying to establish independent communication channels.

    Once the grooming has taken place, and the abuse has commenced, the child or adult care client may act out, which is demonstrated by either an overtly hostile relationship with the carer (such as avoiding them or engaging in public conflict with them) or an unnaturally close relationship, which may be based on an attempt by the client to appease or satisfy the abuser.
    The above red flags, identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, must be understood by workplace investigators in order to ensure that the most vulnerable potential victims are best protected.

    Non-physical abuse by carers

    Due to changing values in both public and private settings, the term ‘abuse’ now has a wider and more complex scope. Psychological, financial, and emotional abuse at the hands of carers is now a real hazard across multiple industrial contexts.

    Some paid and unpaid carers of the aged, older children and the disabled have been known to trick, steal and/or cajole financial benefit from their charges. This can of course provoke angry and emotional responses from all parties involved, not least of which can be outrage from loved ones. One difficulty that investigators face is gathering material from a shaken and, in some cases, infirm victim. It is essential that specialist investigative expertise be employed in such cases.

    High evidentiary standards

    In the criminal realm, the evidentiary standard is quite high in cases of alleged criminal assault and/ or neglect by carers. Up-to-date legal advice on these and related issues is essential if a reportable incident is suspected.

    For many employers who are made aware of alleged abuse by a carer, it can be hard not to react swiftly against this individual. However, all parties are entitled to be heard in a fair and unbiased way.
    For example, an unexplained injury might not signify abuse by a carer, but an undiagnosed medical condition.

    The ‘culprit’ might be assumed to be a carer who sees the elderly, disabled or young client each and every day. Yet transitory people in carer environments such as cleaners, aides and kitchen staff must also be carefully vetted whenever allegations of abuse surface during a workplace investigation. Investigators must resist the temptation to draw inferences or assumptions throughout the investigation.

    Understanding the way abusers work and the nature and pressures on carers are critical for investigators. Knowing how to define and classify behaviour is a crucial component of determinations over abuse allegations.
    These details and advice on what evidence to collect, and how to evaluate evidence are all covered in our new Investigating Abuse in Care course. Positions are still available for courses in March and May 2017. Book now to secure a seat!