Guest blog: Unlocking the potential of Specialist Disability Accommodation

The Summer Foundation sponsor two Topics in Focus in the Disability Research Collection to build and disseminate the evidence base on Housing for people with disability and Younger people in residential aged care. Guest author Dr Di Winkler is back to examine the research evidence on whether the benefits of Specialist Disability Accommodation are being fully realised.

Summer foundation logo. Icons of a house and larger building with many windows. Text: Topics in Focus. Housing for people with disability. Younger people in residential aged care. Featured in the Disability Research Collection. NDRP and APO logos.

Adequate housing is a fundamental human need. In Australia, housing for people with disability is often old or designed to accommodate four or more people in a group home where opportunities to develop independence and reduce support needs are limited. People living in these homes often have little or no say about their routines or who they live with, and are partitioned from the community. As the ongoing Royal Commission is demonstrating, people with disability are vulnerable to neglect and abuse when they are segregated.

In contrast, new peer-reviewed research by La Trobe University and the Summer Foundation finds individualised housing that is well-designed and located close to amenities and services can improve health, wellbeing, community integration, and lower support needs over time. These findings emerged from a study exploring the impact of people with disability moving into single-occupant Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA).

SDA is funded through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency. It is for participants with the highest needs who require housing specifically designed to maximise independence or enable the efficient delivery of support. As a result of this high eligibility criteria only 6 per cent of NDIS participants qualify.

The rollout of SDA policies and payments in 2016 has seen the emergence of a market for disability housing estimated to be worth over $3 billion today and could reach $12 billion according to large investment fund managers. However, despite this potential, the latest NDIS Quarterly Report revealed only 60 per cent of the anticipated 28,000 NDIS participants eligible for SDA funding are receiving payments.

Furthermore, a recent study from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Summer Foundation’s Housing Hub reveals that a significant proportion of NDIS participants requesting SDA funding to live alone are having to wait months for a decision, only to be unsuccessful. Funding decisions are increasingly inconsistent with previous decisions, and not aligning with participants’ needs and preferences. This is leading to costly property vacancies for housing providers, as well as confusion and distress for participants seeking SDA funding.

While many participants lose hope and withdraw their requests, others seek a review of the funding decision. A majority of participants in the study ended up receiving the SDA funding they had originally requested, with a delay of one year or more.

In addition to these issues, it has been revealed that over 1,100 participants are stuck in hospital, as they await funding that will allow them to be discharged to the community. Of the nearly 5,000 applications for housing and support funding had been completed by the Home and Living Panel (as of March 2022), only 4 per cent were completed in less than 14 days and 26 per cent were completed in over 90 days.

In light of these delays, the Down to 10 days campaign has been launched to advocate for more timely funding decisions. The campaign brings together a coalition of over 130 organisations committed to seeing a thriving SDA market where people with disability are given choice and control over their housing and their futures.

Dr Di Winkler is the CEO, Founder and Executive Board member of the Summer Foundation and leads the Research Unit. Di is an occupational therapist and has worked with people with severe brain injury for more than 20 years. In 2006, Di established the Summer Foundation after becoming frustrated by the lack of appropriate housing and support for young people with disability who were being admitted to nursing home for the aged.