NDIS participants manipulated by organised crime as agency calls for greater protections

NDIS participants manipulated by organised crime as agency calls for greater protections
  • PublishedJune 4, 2024

Criminals manipulating participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme have used their money to buy drugs, holidays and new cars.

Among the instances of fraud of the $42 billion scheme were a $20,000 holiday, and a $73,000 car.

NDIS participants have also been forced to hand over cash for criminals to buy drugs, and later harassed by the fraudulent providers.

Officials told Senate Estimates on Monday evening courts can’t keep up with the number of cases of exploitation of participants by organised crime, with reform needed to stop manipulation of participants.

John Dardo — integrity chief of the National Disability Insurance Agency which runs the scheme — claimed at least five per cent of the scheme’s spending wasn’t on genuine needs.

“I have spoken to, very recently, a participant who would meet the provider at the ATM, the provider would withdraw cash and provide that cash to the participant for her to source illicit substances,” he said.

“We have moved participants in some cases from those providers only to have the providers knocking back on their door to actually solicit them.

“They’re coming through as a different provider, as a different entity or they’re buying different providers or they’re establishing other providers or they’re coming back as an unregistered provider, so there’s a whole series of patterns.”

Mr Dardo said some participants have even had to be moved to different locations to escape the harassment from criminals.

“We have had situations where we’ve involved state police in interventions where we have tried to move people away from providers that are putting participants in harm’s way.”

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten was grilled on the fraudulent spending in Question Time, saying the issues with fraud began and worsened under the Coalition government’s 10-year-term.

“We are getting on with fixing up the fraud,” he said.

“We have got about 500 plus investigations of compliance matters under investigation.

“We have 222 investigations under way, we have 20 prosecutions in the court, we have another 12 matters currently with the DPP to consider.”

“And clearly anyone claiming items which are not allowed under the scheme, it is illegal.”

Woman looks at the NDIS complaints form online
Organised crime syndicates are exploiting participants by setting up dodgy provider businesses.  (ABC News: Maren Preuss )

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

Mr Dardo said organised crime syndicates were exploiting participants and the scheme by setting up dodgy provider businesses or posing as support coordinators.

“These are providers that are there to do harm, when I say providers I’m using the word in the loosest possible way,” he said.

“These are not genuine providers, these are people who should not be in business, these are not people that should be allowed near government schemes of any kind and they’re in partnership in some cases with health professionals, who we’ve already taken down or are in the process of taking down.”

But he said that the NDIA is limited in how much it can stop participants going back to those who have manipulated or recruited them once criminals have been kicked out of the scheme.

“Unfortunately the dignity of choice also comes with the dignity of risk and the dignity of consequences and its heartbreaking to see it.”

‘We cannot audit our way out of this’: Executive calls for more safeguards

Mr Dardo told senators that more safeguards for participants and the NDIS itself must be built into the scheme.

“If we don’t go back and tune the way the system is designed now I can tell you now there is not sufficient judiciary to process the cases we have in the pipeline in the country,” he said.New NDIS legislation unveiled

“This might be hard to hear but I think it is outrageous that somebody can come in and claim 10, 20, 50 thousand dollars without a description.

“Or claim the entire plan in the first week of their plan, we need to actually fix the system so that substantiation and descriptions are part of the design.

“It is unreasonable that support coordinators can change the contact details for any participant they want and in some cases the bank accounts of the participants they want to make themselves the contacts and then draw down $6,000 in a week for cleaning that probably didn’t exist.

“There are weaknesses in the design of the system that need to be addressed, we cannot prosecute or audit our way out of this.”

Man looks at the NDIS website
Some criminals are following-up with participants at home, even once fraudulent providers have been booted from the scheme.(666 ABC Canberra: Kim Lester)

Controversial measures before parliament

Following the recommendations of last year’s independent NDIS review, the federal government is moving to require all NDIS providers be registered in order to work with the scheme.

But this has received some pushback from sections of the disability community.

Any changes would have significant day-to-day impact on the $42 billion scheme’s more-than 640,000 participants.

Many with concerns about compulsory regulation worry about the effect it could have on the choice and control — concepts at the heart of the NDIS — that participants have over how and from whom they receive support.

Those in favour say it would help protect more vulnerable participants by making sure there are more rigorous checks and balances.

However, most agree the status quo — where people with disability are harmed at rates much higher than the rest of the population, often in unregulated environments — cannot remain.


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