INCLUDING AN ASSISTANCE DOG IN YOUR NDIS PLAN

It may not be straightforward having your mindDog included in your NDIS plan. Here are some things to consider.

Assistance Dogs (AD) fall under the Assistive Technology umbrella of the NDIS. So far, some people have had varying degrees of success in having their assistance dog included in their plan, while many have been refused.

Here are some tips from our research and experience with preparing to request an Assistance Dog in your plan.

We strongly suggest writing a letter covering the below information specific to your circumstances, and taking it to your planning meeting (or appeal).

There are three sections:

  • Section 34(1) of the NDIS Act – what everyone needs to address
  • If you do not have an assistance dog at the time of your plan
  • If you have an assistance dog at the time of your plan or you previously had an assistance dog.

Section 34(1) of the NDIS Act – what everyone needs to address

NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME ACT 2013 – SECT 34
Reasonable and necessary supports

  1. For the purposes of specifying, in a statement of participant supports, the general supports that will be provided, and the reasonable and necessary supports that will be funded, the CEO must be satisfied of all of the following in relation to the funding or provision of each such support:
    1. the support will assist the participant to pursue the goals, objectives and aspirations included in the participant’s statement of goals and aspirations;
    2. the support will assist the participant to undertake activities, so as to facilitate the participant’s social and economic participation;
    3. the support represents value for money in that the costs of the support are reasonable, relative to both the benefits achieved and the cost of alternative support;
    4. the support will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for the participant, having regard to current good practice;
    5. the funding or provision of the support takes account of what it is reasonable to expect families, carers, informal networks and the community to provide;
    6. The support is most appropriately funded or provided through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and is not more appropriately funded or provided through other general systems of service delivery or support services offered by a person, agency or body, or systems of service delivery or support services offered:
      1. as part of a universal service obligation; or
      2. in accordance with reasonable adjustments required under a law dealing with discrimination on the basis of disability.

Addressing this section can be a bit overwhelming. Let’s break it down:

  1. The assistance dog must be related to your goals and aspirations. They can’t say that a future assistance dog isn’t related to your goals if you have specifically included them. Ask for feedback on writing your goals so you can get the most out of them.
  2. “Facilitating social and economic participation” – this means how will an assistance dog help you access the community, continue with school/university or perhaps look for a job? Anything here that helps you remain connected or increase connection and participation in the community, including looking for work now or in the future.
  3. “Value for money” – here you will need to be able to show a comparison of budgets. Create a budget for your assistance dog for a 12 month period. Include everything – training, insurance, fees, food, gear, etc. You must then also consider the cost of alternative support – eg: support worker. How many hours of direct support each week do you need, or can you estimate you need? Use the current NDIS price guide for the hourly support worker rate for your location, and work out how much a
    support worker would cost each year compared to your assistance dog. Important: most people will still require some support worker hours, but elaborate in this section how an assistance dog may reduce the amount of hours potentially needed – or bring it back to your goals, if ‘increasing independence’ is one, you may not want a support worker helping with everything. For children, creating independence away from family and carers may be something your child would like to achieve with the help of an assistance dog.
  4. “Current good practice” – this is the section where the NDIA use the NDIA/La Trobe report on Assistance Animals to state there is not enough conclusive research. However, according to the NDIA’s website, “current good practice” includes evidence from literature or expert opinion (rule 3.2(a) of the Supports for Participants rules), lived experience of the participant or their carers (rule 3.2(b), or anything that the NDIA has learnt through the delivery of the NDIS (rule 3.2c). This means that if you can find supporting academic literature, attach it. If you can have statements of lived experience from yourself or others involved in you/your child’s care, include them. ‘Evidence of what the NDIA has learnt’ can mean evidence that others have received funding. You might want to search news articles for participants who have had an assistance dog included in their plan (there is at least one article). Evidence may also include a support letter from another individual/family, or as evidence by published judgements from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Always ask permission before sharing what another person
    has received to support your own evidence unless it is published publically by the AAT.
  5. “Reasonable to expect families/carers/informal networks/community to provide” – what specific tasks will the assistance dog provide that is beyond what is normal for family/carers/friends/community to provide? How will an assistance dog
    compliment the current support team?
  6. “Most appropriately funded by NDIS” – is there other funding available? Or, is there another type of assistive technology that they may consider be funded under another system eg: Health? Remember, assistance dogs are Assistive Technology but
    must be related back to your NDIS goals and aspirations, and should be related to the disability you listed to be eligible for the NDIS – even if they support other illnesses or disabilities you may have.

If you do not have an assistance dog yet

  • Be prepared with how you plan on acquiring an assistance dog. Very important. Write down the steps you have taken so far to make contact with organisations or trainers, the timeframe you are looking at, and the costs involved with each organisation you are considering.
  • If you have decided on an organisation or training plan – even if owner training – write down what your plan is (eg: We will be choosing to purchase a puppy/dog from _______ and then we have chosen to have trainer/organisation support us in our training OR will be providing a trained assistance dog. Purchase of the dog will be _______. Training in the first year will cost _______ much. Further years will likely increase/decrease cost and why.)
  • If there is a specific reason you have chosen an organisation or trainer – perhaps they are a specialist in AD’s for you or your child’s disability – state this.
  • Collect all supporting documents from therapists and anyone who supports you having an assistance dog in your plan. Ask them to write about the benefits and what they anticipate the support will change (eg: increase independence, reduce risk of harm from a medical episode/meltdown/fall, etc). Occupational therapy reports are highly regarded! Other types of support therapists and people include psychologists, speech therapist, behavioural therapist, your regular GP, carers, teachers/tutors.
  • GOALS: Ensure your goals directly relate to your assistance dog, or an assistance dog can be easily related. State how they are related.
  • Address the criteria for section 34 of the NDIS Act – ‘Reasonable and Necessary Supports’

During your plan meeting, if you do not have an occupational therapy report or the NDIA would like further information, they can provide a small amount of funding for an “Assistive Technology Assessment”. It’s better to ask for this than assume it will be provided. Here is what the Assistive Technology FAQ states:

If a participant identifies that they need assistance to overcome barriers – particularly using technology, the plan will include funding for an AT assessment. This assessment can assist a participant and the NDIA to understand what are the most appropriate AT solutions to meet the goals in the participant’s plan.
https://www.ndis.gov.au/providers/assistive-technology-faqs

If you are denied, you are able to request an internal review – or sometimes called a ‘review of a reviewable decision.’ The letter declining the support should state which sections of the Act you were denied under.

If you are unsuccessful with the internal review, you can then apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to consider the decision externally. Both of these processes can take quite some time, so where possible, be as prepared as you can for your regular plan meeting/review.

If you have an assistance dog or previously had an assistance dog

  • Relate specifically to your goals. They cannot say it doesn’t relate to your goals, if your assistance dog is in them.
  • Provide a summary (written is best if you can) for how your assistance dog has helped you and for how long. Give specific examples of times that your assistance dog has helped you (that you feel comfortable sharing). Ensure it is related to the disability that you qualify under for the NDIS .
  • Provide evidence of training.
  • Provide a 12 month assistance dog budget. You may want to state your expenses to date. Include all training, insurance, gear, fees, etc.
  • Back it all up with supporting letters from your trainer, organisation, occupational therapist, psychologist, carers, friends and family, etc. The more supporting letters, the better. Occupational therapy reports are highly regarded, but with a working assistance dog (or past working assistance dog), lived experience is equally as valuable.
  • Address section 34(1) of the NDIS (above).

Feedback from other participants

A NDIA representative asked one participant to provide the answers to the following questions. You may consider some of these points in your application although they have not been published as ‘standard’ questions or criteria as yet:

  1. Previous experience with animals, in particular an assistance animal;
  2. Evidence of outcomes of a trial with an assistance animal or relevant contact with another animal.
  3. Details of any animals currently in the home(including the breed) and expectation of how the assistance animal will interact with these animals;
  4. Physical welfare issues including accommodation, property fencing;
  5. Who will be the responsible party both at home and in other environments including the community, school for the assistance animal;
  6. Who will take legal responsibility if something happens involving the assistance animal;
  7. Who is responsible for the welfare of the assistance animal including feeding, exercise, vaccinations, etcetera;
  8. Expectations of you and your family in relation to the role relating to the assistance animal including impact on their time, work and family commitments, ongoing training needs and support to care for the assistance animal;
  9. Their expectation of the impact of the assistance animal on you and the household;
  10. Details of any behavioural issues which may impact on the assistance animal and how these will be managed;
  11. The tasks the assistance animal is intended to perform to mitigate your disability;
  12. How the provision of an assistance animal is expected to impact on your current need for informal or funded supports and how these will reduce your need for this direct care;
  13. Other options which have been considered as an alternative, and difference in cost.

In a nutshell

  • Be prepared!
  • Show evidence of training and/or training plan
  • Address the ‘reasonable and necessary’ support criteria from the Act
  • Have as much supporting documentation as possible – reports, letters, logs
  • Be clear on what you are asking for. Consider what you feel to be reasonable and necessary and be clear. It must be cost effective in relation to other supports, and alternative support would not be suitable/cannot do the same job

NDIS

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