A Service agreement is an AGREEMENT - NOT a DEMAND!!!
Over the past 5 years of helping people navigate and understand their NDIS plans, one of the most common things that comes up is the difficulties and misinformation surrounding service agreements.
Many participants experience difficulties even understanding the agreements, have no idea of their entitlements surrounding these agreements and are under the misconception that they have no choice but to agree with everything and sign if they want to get the service of the provider.
This is very frustrating and incorrect. I hope this blog will help some of you understand your rights and show you things to look for in the agreements.
If a provider refuses to negotiate and makes noises about sign the agreement or not receive service’, you need to report them to the NDIS Safeguards and Quality Commission
Remember the NDIS is all about Choice and Control, so take control and make sure you are very comfortable with your service agreements before you sign on the dotted line.
From the NDIS website:
Providers should support each participant to understand any service agreement using the language, mode of communication and terms that the participant can understand.
The NDIA recommends having a written service agreement so participants and providers are clear about what each party has agreed to.
Service agreements help make sure the participant and provider have the same expectations of what supports will be delivered and how they will be delivered.
Making a service agreement is a negotiation between the participant and the provider. Participants might involve a nominated person (such as a participant’s family member or friend).
A written service agreement is required for Specialist Disability Accommodation supports under the NDIS rules.
For other NDIS services, the NDIA does not require written service agreements.
A service agreement between the service provider and participant is like any other agreement under Australian Consumer Law.
Pointes to note:
- A service agreement is not an NDIS requirement (except for SDA) – it is a recommendation
- Providers are supposed to ensure their service agreements are easily understood by the participant and their nominees.
- A service agreement is mean to be a negotiation between the provider and participant - not a demand.
- A service agreement is not only about what is expected by the participant, but also what is expected by the provider.
- Never sign a service agreement without properly reading and understanding it.
- Don’t let a provider bully or rush you into signing an agreement. They can provide the service and get paid by the NDIS without an agreement being signed.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A SERVICE AGREEMENT
Over the years, many of us have had things shoved under our noses and told to sign if you want the use this service. We are not given the choice to negotiate and are usually too exhausted and overwhelmed to read them or to be able to absorb the information.
‘Anyway – if we don’t sign – we can’t use the service, so it really doesn’t matter what it says!!!’
A service agreement is not supposed to be this way, so it is particularly important that you read carefully – when you are fresh, and really understand the document.
You need to highlight things you would like changed or at least discussed with the provider.
THE PROBLEMS WITH SERVICE AGREEMENTS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM
These are but a few………
Some service agreements are so complex in the way they are written that people need a lawyer to translate it for them!!!
- Send it back and ask for it in easy English – or at the minimum – common language, that can be understood.
- Have a meeting with provider and get them to explain everything to you – DO NOT SIGN until you fully understand what you are signing. Take someone with you if you are not confident with being talked into signing without fully understanding what you are signing.
- Have a friend or advocate go through the document and explain it to you and highlight any unclear points, so the provider can explain them to you.
NEVER SIGN ANYTHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND
There is extraordinarily little consistency in the standards of service agreements. You can have 4 services giving you their service agreements, and none are anything alike!
Service Agreements can vary from a sensible 2-3 pages to a ridiculous 25+ pages!!!
- Send the agreement back and ask them to only send you the information that is relevant to your situation. There seems to be a set template and one size fits all!!! There is very little regard for the individual and their requirements – just a template, where the service/provider just changes the name and quote.
- Send them an example of a service agreement that works for you and tell them to use that template
Things to check
- Check the start/end date of the agreement – some do annual agreements, and some do length of plan.
- Check the time period for cancellation – remember the NDIS states you need to give 48 hours notice – I have seen some lately saying you need to give 5 days notice. Please ensure you question the 5 days, as it is unreasonable ( unless you are going away for holidays or having an extended planned period away form the service) and have finalised your plans).
- Ensure the provider provides a time frame for send invoices - don’t settle for: invoices will be sent out within an appropriate time frame . My experience has been that can be up to 6 months before they send an invoice!
- Insist on a time frame ie: invoice will be sent out no later than 14 days after service – or invoice will be sent out monthly - whatever you agree on..
- IF SELF MANAGING – check the payment period (how long they require for payment). My rule of thumb is 14 days - this allows for any unexpected issues. I also state provider sends me invoices no later then 14 days – except with the Day service, which is monthly
- Check the terms around leaving a provider: I say, you usually give 30 days notice in writing to an employer, so that is the maximum I will agree to in a service agreement.
- Put is something around provider changing support workers for a shift without reasonable notice given. I have seen many times a new support worker will arrive at the home of a participant who has complex mental health and anxiety issues. They are surprised, as they have no notice of the change and send the worker away. The provider then charges for the day, as the participant didn’t give 48 hours notice.It should be the responsibility of the provider to give reasonable notice ( same as they expect you to give for a cancellation) when there is a significant change OR to contact the participant and give them the option of having a stranger come to their home.
- Check the hours, supports and what you will be required to pay for.
When working with for-profit or sole traders, it is a good idea to have a simple agreement in place as well.
That way everyone knows where they stand and it reduces stress, confusion and conflict.
Keep it simple, Sammy!
Speak to the worker and come up with what you would both like in the agreement.
As they say: Everything is good – till it isn’t
Don’t show a provider (other than a Plan Manager or Support Coordinator) the funds in your plan and make sure they have not written into an agreement that they can see the money!
We have received a service agreement from a large provider that was complex and 21 pages long!
It was written by a lawyer and was all in ‘legal speak’, so I had no idea what they were talking about!
Only 6 of the 21 pages related to the services my daughter was receiving – they had every single service they provided covered in the agreement:
- Day service
- Long term accommodation
- Short term accommodation
- Weekend social activities
My girl only accessed the camps and some weekend social activities. It took hours to even figure out what was relevant to me!
To this day, I have no idea what a lot of the agreement meant! I had a lawyer friend read it, interpret it and note any items of concern for me.
Sent my queries to provider and they told me : ‘Don’t worry, no-one understands it, just sign and all will be good’.
When pushed for changes to agreement, their tone changed to:
‘This is a legal document (*no it isn’t) and we won’t be changing anything - so sign it – no questions asked to go elsewhere!
So much for an ‘Agreement ‘- more like a DEMAND
And we went elsewhere…..
Written by: Sue Dymond
CEO/Founder of iDareU – helping people get a fair go with the NDIS and to understand their plans. Since Covid, we have been able to expand our services to anywhere is Australia as we have the capacity to conduct zoom meetings.
Author of: Removing the Fear of Raising an Child with Down syndrome ‘ Waising Miss Chloe’ I am also the mum of an amazing 29 year old woman who has Down syndrome and I have an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)