NDIS cut-off age 'must change' to fix 'terrible gap' in the system

Independent MP Zali Steggall alongside Bobbie and Chris English. Source: @zalisteggall

People over 65 not already on the NDIS can’t access the scheme if they acquire a disability after this age under the current system.

Bobbie English’s husband Chris was celebrating his 69th birthday when he fainted and fell downstairs leaving him a quadriplegic last year.

Currently, people over 65 not already on the National Disability Insurance Scheme can’t access the program if they acquire a disability after this age. 

Crossbench independents Zali Steggall, Rebekha Sharkie and Helen Haines are urging the Federal government to heed a campaign to reform this system.

Chris English.
Chris English.

Ms English said her's husband's ineligibility for the NDIS had taken a personal toll on the family. 

“Now these Ministers keep saying but you’ve got other services – you’ve got this, you’ve got that,” she said.

“Well come and live in our shoes for a month… I’m there 24/7, we have to feed him, dress him, shower him, everything."

Zali Stegall presented a petition in Parliament on Tuesday signed by more than 19,000 people calling for an extension to the NDIS cut-off age beyond 65 for those who suffer a disability after this age.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said NDIS eligibility does continue beyond 64 for those who became participants before 65 and choose to continue in the scheme.

"For those 65 and over, there is a range of supports available within the aged care system that can be accessed through My Aged Care, which may be suitable for older people with disability," the spokesperson said.

Bobbie English at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Bobbie English at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

But Ms Steggall said the current system has meant “very real discrimination” against older Australians with these support services failing to meet the demands of those in need.

“Clearly this arbitrary age of 65 is not working – a lot of people are falling through the gap and not getting the adequate level of care,” she said.

“I mean 65 is not this miraculous age where everything just stops and all of a sudden accidents stop happening or people don’t develop disabilities.”

The petition alternatively urges reform to the My Aged Care system to better cater for people needing significant care.

My Aged Care is the entry point into aged care services for older people looking for support and assistance. 

But the petition says the maximum Government subsidy of $50,250 under this scheme is not sufficient for those with extensive care needs.

Ms Steggall said action has to be taken to resolve the challenges faced by those requiring more support.

“We clearly have a problem. It is a real problem in terms of how care can be provided,” she said.

“It means family members are giving up work [and] spending their time round the clock caring and they’re not being able to access services.”

The petition was presented in Parliament on 3 December, which marks the International Day of Disabled Persons.

Independent Zali Steggall at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Independent Zali Steggall at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

The spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said the age requirement for NDIS eligibility was based on a Productivity Commission recommendation.

"The NDIS is not intended to replace the health or aged care systems," the spokesperson said.

But independent Helen Haines described the status quo as a “terrible gap in this system”.

“We have a system which is clearly failing people who find themselves disabled at a later point in their life and that’s unacceptable”.

Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie said access barriers to the NDIS faced by those over the age of 65 with a disability must change.

“We must change this and it is not acceptable,” she said.

“We need to fix this and we can change this in this place… we’ll keep fighting for you.”

When Mr English had his fall he was not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, rather the aged care supplement program.

Ms English said their situation made her concerned she can’t afford to get “sick” because of the caring demands of looking after her husband.

“I'd like the Ministers to just come and speak to us and see that we are real people,” she said.

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