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Provider’s guide to cancellations

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Cancellations are common in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), so having a robust policy in place – one that sets out in writing what a client can expect if they or you cancel a service – is vital.

Documenting your business’ approach means everyone is on the same page about what happens if appointments or bookings are cancelled or rescheduled, and it encourages clients and providers to respect each other’s time too.

With cashflow top of mind for every business, policies that protect you financially are essential, but the importance factor is even higher in the world of the NDIS, and there are strict rules every provider needs to know and adhere to.

In this article, we unpack what the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) says about cancellations, when you can and can’t charge a fee for them, and why service agreements are key.

We also look at the ‘unfair advantage’ you have as a provider and how to ethically leverage that to build brand awareness and reputation, and grow trust.

Agency rules around cancellations

When it comes to cancellations, the NDIA’s rules (legislative instruments made under the NDIS Act, which sets out how the Scheme operates) are clear, and everyone providing supports and services to participants must stick to them. These rules, outlined in the NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits, include that:

  • cancellations can only be claimed for supports where the NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits indicate they can be, and where the terms of cancellation were stated in a signed agreement.
  • if a client has given you more than seven clear days’ notice, you can’t charge them a cancellation fee.
  • in the event of a cancellation, if you’re able to find alternative billable work for the staff member involved (that may be you or someone else), you can’t charge your client a cancellation fee. This is a rule that’s more commonly broken and the only way for a client to find out if the staff member was allocated to another billable task is to ask. But remember, it’s a rule that also presents an opportunity for providers to demonstrate transparency, which helps with building and maintaining trust and credibility in a competitive market.
  • you can’t charge a cancellation fee for costs you didn’t incur, like mileage.
  • you must adhere to the NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits, whether or not you’re NDIS-registered.

At My Plan Manager, we advise our clients that the easiest way to avoid paying cancellation fees is to show up to appointments at the scheduled time, and at the agreed meeting place. But sometimes that’s easier said than done when unexpected events occur – like illness – or when the disability support worker taking them to their appointment cancels their shift at the last minute and there’s no one available to take them.

So, if you want to be known for providing a trusted service – one that has a strong reputation that spills into positive word of mouth referrals and five-star reviews – think about the circumstances surrounding the cancellation, and whether there’s a way to avoid charging your client for it. Every dollar spent on a cancelled appointment is a dollar lost for precious supports, and this is something that weighs heavily on the minds of NDIS participants.

Remember, participants know that providers can cancel at any time, without penalty, even at the last minute – and that leaves many feeling they’re at a disadvantage. Client care is just one of the many reasons why it’s good to have a respectful cancellation policy in place – plus, no one needs those negative online reviews from dissatisfied customers!

Why a service agreement is vital when it comes to cancellations

According to the NDIA, if a disability support worker cancels on the day of their shift, even an hour before they’re due to start, no penalty can be applied to the provider.

But if, as a result of the worker cancelling, their client has no one to take them to a long-awaited appointment with their occupational therapist and they have to cancel that appointment, the participant still has to pay the occupational therapist.

When you think about it from a client perspective, it’s easy to see why participants feel uneasy about the perceived imbalance of power in the area of cancellations. That’s why agreeing the terms of your relationship and setting realistic expectations from the outset is important.

It’s also why we recommend providers have a conversation with their clients about the business’ approach to cancellations before the service agreement is signed and services and supports are delivered.

And remember, once you have a signed agreement in place, you can’t change the terms of it – including your cancellation policy – without getting your client’s approval first. Either that, or you cancel the original service agreement and issue a new one.

In short: you can’t charge extra fees without your client’s approval.

Where service agreements do and don’t apply

If your client consents to a service agreement that doesn’t comply with the NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Limits, the agreement is invalid.

To explain, below are two alternative scenarios:

Scenario 1

Harry consents to a service agreement that says his physiotherapist can charge a cancellation fee if he provides less than two days’ notice.

The agreement is acceptable because Harry has negotiated cancellation terms that are better than the terms set out in the NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits.

Scenario 2

A service agreement Hilary has consented to says her disability support worker can charge a cancellation fee if Hilary provides less than 10 days’ notice.

The terms of the agreement exceed the NDIA’s maximum notice period of seven days for cancellation. Regardless of what the agreement states, Hilary can’t be charged for a short notice cancellation if she provides seven clear days’ notice.

So, having a clear, fair and legally sound service agreement in place with every client is smart business practice and key to running cancellations well. Equally vital is a clear philosophy about cancellations.

A cancellation policy is intended to recover financial loss incurred from cancelled appointments, not present an opportunity to charge unnecessary fees to clients.

If your cancellation fees aren’t recovering a financial loss – i.e. if you were able to fill the appointment or shift with another client or divert your staff member to another job – you may want to ask why you’re charging them and consider carefully what you do next.

What we advise our clients

If one of our clients believes they’ve been charged incorrectly, we encourage them to speak with their provider or an NDIA representative, and we can cancel the invoice while the matter is being investigated.

We also encourage our clients to sign up to receive SMS notifications from My Plan Manager. These alert clients to who’s claiming from their NDIS funding and how much, so they can contact us straight away to query invoices as they’re received and put a hold on payments.

If a client can’t resolve a billing dispute with their provider, we encourage them to contact the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. But hopefully, with clear and open communication and a well-structured service agreement in place, these disputes can be kept to a minimum.

Here’s what to consider when putting together a service agreement.

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My Plan Manager acknowledges the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My Plan Manager acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to Elders both past and present.
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