An NDIS best practice checklist for unregistered sole trader support workers

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has significantly changed how support is engaged by people with a disability. People receiving NDIS funded supports and services have much greater control and autonomy over who provides their supports and services, as well as the price, terms, and conditions of these support arrangements. As a result, the industry has seen a significant increase in the number of self employed (sole trader) support workers.

While working for yourself as a support worker can be immensely rewarding, it also comes with a great deal of responsibility. You are running a business, and your services are paid for using NDIS (government) funds. This comes with obligations, even as a unregistered service provider. We so often hear the rhetoric “just get an ABN and insurance and you’ll be right”, especially on social media. However, this laid back approach to running a business in the NDIS space just won’t cut it, especially when something goes wrong – and stuff will go wrong.

To help sole trader support workers begin to navigate some of these responsibilities and obligations, My Foundations has developed a Sole Trader Support Worker Best Practice Checklist.

Best practice checklist as a unregistered sole trader provider of NDIS funded supports and services:

  • have a Tax file number (TFN)
  • obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and understand what it means to have an ABN
  • know if you need to register for goods and services tax (GST), even though many NDIS supports and services are exempt from GST
  • hold a current National Police Check or obtain your NDIS Worker Screening Clearance
  • hold a ‘paid’ worker (not a volunteer) Working With Children Check if you are working with or around people under 18 years
  • understand your obligations under the NDIS Code of Conduct and the Child Safety Principles
  • complete, and have the certificate to show you have completed, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission Worker Orientation Module
  • complete, and have the certificate to show you have completed, the Infection Control (COVID-19) Training
  • research Insurance products and take out Professional Indemnity and Public Liability that cover all services you provide
  • assess your risk to determine if you need or want some form of Personal Accident and Injury Insurance in case you sustain serious injury or illness – as you are not typically eligible to take out workers compensation insurance as a sole trader
  • have a current and valid Driver Licence, and be prepared to provide a Demerit Points Check, where your services includes assistance with transport
  • have Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Insurance, which includes coverage for business use where your vehicle is used to provide transport services
  • have a Service Agreementsee sample service agreement
  • have a Consent Form with Privacy Policy in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988see sample consent form
  • have an Invoice that meets NDIA requirements – see sample invoice
  • obtain and maintain qualifications and/or training where this is necessary to provide responsible and safe service delivery, mandated by industry, desired by the participant, or required by your insurance company
  • develop a process to manage Incidents, including Reportable Incidents, in accordance with the NDIS Act 2103
  • develop a process to manager Feedback and Complaints and reflect this in your Service Agreement
  • have a thorough knowledge of Restrictive Practice and your reporting responsibilities under Human Rights Law and the NDIS Act 2013
  • develop, implement, and maintain relevant forms, processes, policies, and procedures 
  • understand your responsibilities under Consumer Law, as NDIS participants are consumers of products and services and therefore protected by consumers law
  • have the ability to provide referees or testimonials should a perspective participant request them
  • be able to provide some form of photo identifications to show participants you are who you say you are
  • engage in regular professional development, including Professional Supervision

Creating forms, policies, processes, and procedures:

When developing documents like forms, policies, processes, and procedures – especially things like your service agreement and consent form – it is useful to remember that they do not need to be complex to be effective. On the contrary, if the person referred to these documents does not understand what the content means, these documents may be ineffective and even damaging to your business.

We develop and maintain documents to create clarity and define roles, responsibilities, obligations, and agreements within our working relationships. However, these documents also reflect your values, purpose, vision, and mission. So, when creating forms, policies, processes, and procedures, think carefully about your language in this context. If you are going to use document templates or examples created by others, think about modifying the language to suit your business.

Invoicing an NDIS participant:

As a unregistered service provider you will typically be providing supports and services to people whose NDIS funds are either plan managed or self managed. This means you will be sending your invoices to either an NDIS Registered Plan Manager, and/or to the participant directly.

Regardless of who you are sending your invoice to, an NDIS invoice should include:

  • your business name and ABN
  • your contact information
  • a unique invoice number and invoice date
  • the participant’s details (where available) e.g. participants name, NDIS number
  • your payment terms and due date (which should also be reflected in more detail in your service agreement)
  • a description of the supports or service you provided
  • total invoice amount
  • GST component if applicable (although, most direct support services are GST free)

The NDIA also states that all invoices must include:

  • quantity of service(s) provided, such as the number of hours or units
  • hourly rate or unit price of service(s) provided
  • support item number(s) for participants with plan managed funds (not necessary for those whose funds are self managed)
  • date(s) of service delivery

You are not the decision maker (on you own at least) about which NDIS support category or support item your services will be paid from. This is the participants decision, possibly with the assistance of someone else like their plan manager, support coordinator, or family member.

How a participant decides which support budget, category, and/or item your services are best paid from is determined within the context their individual goals, desired outcomes, and what is considered a reasonable and necessary support for them.

NDIS Quality & Safeguards Commission:

Like any consumer (under Consumer Law), NDIS participants have the right to provide feedback and to make a complaint about your services. Therefore, every NDIS participant you work with should know how they can do this.

When a person is not happy with your service, the best outcome is to resolve the issue together. Sometimes though, a participant might not feel comfortable raising their concerns directly with you. Other times, the participant may have raised their concerns with you, but still feel the matter is unresolved. In these circumstances, your participant must know who they can speak with. It is your responsibility to ensure that they do.

Where a compliant is serious enough, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission is there to assist NDIS participants. Even as a unregistered provider you are accountable to the Code of Conduct in the same way as an NDIS registered provider and their employees.

Feedback and complaints can be raised with the NDIS Commission by:

  • Phoning: 1800 035 544 (free call from landlines).
  • Text Telephone (TTY): 133 677.
  • National Relay Service: 1800 035 544.
  • Completing a Compliant Contact Form via the website.

All of this information is typically included in your service agreement with your participant.

Incident management systems and reportable incidents:

Service providers should act to prevent incidents. As a self employed support worker, you are a service provider.

Where incidents do occur, under the NDIS Incident Management and Reportable Incidents Rules 2018, NDIS registered service providers require an incident management system. This system is used to record and manage incidents that occur in connection with providing supports and services to people with disability. While a unregistered provider is not obligated to meet the same level of compliance as a registered provider, it is best practice to implement and document how you will manage incidents as a part of your business – because incidents will occur and they do require action.

For context, an incident management system for an NDIS registered service provider must cover:

  • acts, omissions, events or circumstances that occur in connection with providing NDIS supports or services to a person with disability and have, or could have, caused harm to the person with disability,
  • acts by a person with disability that occur in connection with providing NDIS supports or services to the person with disability and which have caused serious harm, or a risk of serious harm, to another person,
  • reportable incidents that have or are alleged to have occurred in connection with providing NDIS supports or services to a person with disability.

Source: Incident management and reportable incidents (NDIS Providers)

There are some incidents a service provider can respond to and manage on their own. Others of a more serious nature must be reported to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. This applies to you as a unregistered provider as well.

Reportable incidents include:

  • the death of a person with disability,
  • serious injury of a person with disability,
  • abuse or neglect of a person with disability,
  • unlawful sexual or physical contact with, or assault of, a person with disability,
  • sexual misconduct, committed against, or in the presence of, a person with disability, including grooming of the person with disability for sexual activity,
  • unauthorised use of restrictive practices in relation to a person with disability.

There are strict reporting processes and time frames that must be adhered to when a reportable incident occurs. The NDIS Commission have provided a Frequently Asked Questions; My Reportable Incidents booklet to guide providers and / or their workers through this process.

How to notify the NDIS Commission of a reportable incident:

Registered NDIS service providers would use the NDIS Commission Portal (PRODA) – My Reportable Incidents page – to notify and manage reportable incidents. However, as a unregistered provider you do not have access to PRODA (for this purpose anyway). Therefore, you would report directly to the Reportable Incidents team via email at reportableincidents@ndiscommission.gov.au or verbally over the phone at 1800 035 544.

Regulated restrictive practice and the NDIS Commission:

Restrictive practice is something that all support workers should understand fully. The NDIS Act 2013 defines ‘restrictive practice’ as any practice or intervention that restricts the rights or freedom of movement of a person with disability for the purpose of protecting the person or others from harm.

Under the NDIS Restrictive Practices and Behaviour Support Rules 2018, restrictive practices include:

  • Seclusion – meaning the sole confinement of a person with disability in a room or a physical space at any hour of the day or night where voluntary exit is prevented, or not facilitated, or it is implied that voluntary exit is not permitted,
  • Chemical restraint – meaning the is the use of medication or chemical substance for the primary purpose of influencing a person’s behaviour. It does not include the use of medication prescribed by a medical practitioner for the treatment of, or to enable treatment of, a diagnosed mental disorder, a physical illness or a physical condition,
  • Mechanical restraint – meaning the use of a device to prevent, restrict, or subdue a person’s movement for the primary purpose of influencing a person’s behaviour but does not include the use of devices for therapeutic or non-behavioural purposes,
  • Physical restraint – meaning the use or action of physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue movement of a person’s body, or part of their body, for the primary purpose of influencing their behaviour. Physical restraint does not include the use of a hands-on technique in a reflexive way to guide or redirect a person away from potential harm/injury, consistent with what could reasonably be considered as the exercise of care towards a person,
  • Environmental restraint – meaning that a person’s free access to all parts of their environment, including items or activities, is restricted.

The use of any restrictive practice must be documented in an authorised positive behaviour support plan that has been lodged with NDIS Commission by a registered (group 110) Senior Behaviour Support Practitioner. The use of any of the above practices without authorisation is considered a prohibited practice. The use of a prohibitive practice is in breach of a person’s human rights, Code of Conduct, and may even result in legal action against the perpetrator.

Positive behaviour support plans authorised by the NDIS Commission will align with NDIS and Human Rights legislation. The disability support sector is working hard to reduce and eliminate the use of restrictive practice. This has been agreed to in the National Framework for Reducing and Eliminating the Use of Restrictive Practice in the Disability Sector.

Any service provider or person who supports the participant, their family or carers with the implementation (i.e. the use) of a restrictive practice must be an NDIS registered provider.  Participants can still choose to use non-registered providers in areas of their support that do not involve the implementation of the restrictive practice e.g. cleaning service.

Other helpful reading and resources:

What you need to know about operating as a Sole Trader

Help for independent contractors – Fair Work Ombudsman

Suppliers of NDIS services and GST

Social & Community Services Industry Pay Rates

NDIS Price Guide