National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) intermediaries have a lot of boxes to tick, each day. Ruby – a coach in My Plan Manager’s Kinora community – recently told us about five of the biggest challenges she faced when she worked as a Local Area Coordinator (LAC), and what she did to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Not enough hours in the day
There are a lot of competing priorities when working as a LAC – you’re attending NDIS planning meetings, writing up draft plans, supporting people to use their approved plans, and answering questions. You’re also attending community events and working towards National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) expectations, like meeting a quota for the number of draft plans written.
As a LAC, I often felt like I didn’t have time to support people in the way I would have liked to. There’s a lot going on, and you must choose and prioritise what you will do every day.
Tip: I always made sure I had a to-do list that set out my tasks and what to prioritise – like making sure I was in contact with vulnerable people and writing draft plans for the clients whose plans were set to expire first. It felt great when I could tick off tasks and have a record of what I’d done.
Challenge 2: Burnout
As a LAC, you have a high list of priorities and a large caseload of clients and working with them was the part I loved most. But I did take on people’s situations and the fact that some of them were very much in need of NDIS support – it can be hard to switch off and stop worrying about them and this can lead to burnout.
Tip: I put boundaries in place, like not being available to clients 24/7. I found that looking after my mental health outside of work and doing things like going out for walks in nature, or swimming laps helped me to switch off, and that was really important. It prepared me better for the challenges at work.
Challenge 3: NDIS plans, and written communication from the NDIA to participants
Often plans aren’t written in a language that people can easily understand. They can look at their plans and think ‘this doesn’t tell me what supports I can access’, especially if it’s their first NDIS plan. This can be confusing and overwhelming.
Tip: If a person couldn’t understand their plan, I’d take copy and make notes in it, like what they could access under each budget. If they wanted more detail, I’d send them an email explaining further. Then, I’d continue to work with them, and have several conversations to help them understand what was in their plan and how to use it. The NDIS has some great booklets now that explain this in depth (Booklets 1, 2 and 3 in this link: Booklets and factsheets | NDIS).
Challenge 4: Inconsistent timeframes
I used get asked a lot of questions like ‘how long will it take the NDIA to approve my plan?’, and there is no answer. It varies for everybody – some plans get approved quickly and others take time. Then there are things like assistive technology requests. Recently a lot of people’s NDIS plans expired before they could have their review meeting. When this happens, a plan rolls over, but it’s not ideal. It can take a long time for the NDIA to make a decision, and this is something that would constantly happen when I was a LAC.
Tip: I always erred on the side of caution when speaking with people (to manage their expectations) and supported them to enquire about updates from the NDIA. If a support they really needed wasn’t coming back to them, we would investigate mainstream or community supports, and any creative ways they could use their budget – like using a therapy assistant instead of a qualified therapist and having shorter therapy sessions.
Challenge 5: Having difficult conversations with people
Having difficult conversations with clients when their budgets were reduced, or when the NDIA declined items they’d requested was very common.
Tip: You have to be understanding and supportive of the person you’re speaking to. You can support them by letting them know about the review process in place, and helping them gather additional evidence, then looking at using their budget more creatively and exploring mainstream supports they could access, like a general practitioner care plan.