Queensland Advocacy Incorporated’s (QAI) National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Appeals Advocate supported John,* aged 15 and his mother through the External Appeals process at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
John has a complex array of disabilities including brain shunts, vision and hearing impairment, chromosomal deletion and autism; and requires the service of an assistance dog individually trained to perform tasks directly related to his disability. John’s dog performs multiple tasks including picking up items; alerting John to the presence of sounds or people; acting as a buffer to avert bumping of his brain shunt; assisting with public transport and community access, and alerting the family to adverse medical episodes. This animal is a fundamental part of John’s life and indeed has saved John’s life in the past, and its specialised skills and maintenance thereof is imperative to his continued safety and wellbeing.
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) initially funded ongoing training and maintenance of John’s assistance animal in his first NDIS plan, however, funding for these supports ceased in his second plan. The key issue in dispute was whether John’s dog was an assistance animal and whether ongoing training and maintenance was reasonable and necessary in accordance with s 34 of the NDIS Act 2013
One of the many challenges involved in this matter was overcoming the high evidentiary thresholds imposed by the Agency in its narrow reading of s34 criteria especially in relation to the effectiveness and value for money of assistance animals. Adding a further element of unpredictability was the inaugural involvement of the NDIA Early Resolution Team, whose initial mandate appeared less conciliatory and more inquisitorial in nature. Working closely with John’s mother and certified service dog trainers we were able to provide the Agency probative evidence substantiating the benefit and effectiveness of the ongoing training and maintenance for John’s assistance animal.
QAI was able to establish that ongoing support was crucial to ensure John’s safety when accessing the community; the welfare of the animal; and the enhancement of John’s quality of life. Prior to the second AAT Case Conference, the Agency awarded full funding for the maintenance and ongoing training of John and his assistance dog.
(*not his real name)