Major review of the Disability Support Pension

The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten, have announced a review of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) to make it simpler, fairer and sustainable for those who need it.

A key part of the reforms is a comprehensive revision, by medical and disability experts and advocates, of the 22 Impairment Tables that are used to measure how a person’s impairment affects their ability to work. The Government says that these are ‘out of date.’

The current Impairment Tables were last comprehensively reviewed in 1993 and are no longer consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practices.

Over the years this has led to anomalies and inconsistencies which have distorted the assessment process. For example, when hearing impairment is assessed, a person with a hearing aid is not required to wear it but someone who is having their sight impairment assessed must wear their glasses.

Overhauling and updating the Impairment Tables is critical to make sure assessment processes can accurately and effectively identify people who can work.

As part of the package of DSP reforms, the minister says, “it will also make it simpler and fairer for people who have a profound disability or a terminal illness to receive the benefit as quickly as possible”.

“It is essential that we have the flexibility to cut red tape and quickly process the claims of people who are clearly or manifestly eligible due to a catastrophic or congenital disability or cancer so they can receive financial support quickly.”

“At the same time, people who are clearly not eligible will be streamed out of the process earlier and referred to appropriate assistance more quickly”.

The revised Impairment Tables will be implemented on 1 January 2012.

An advisory committee is being established to provide advice on updating the tables, drawing on consultations with the medical, allied health and rehabilitation sector, disability peak bodies, mental health advocates and relevant Government agencies.

The Government is continuing to reform the DSP system to benefit all those Australians whose disabilities curtail their ability to fully support themselves.

As part of these ongoing reforms the Government is:

  • Closing a loophole for people on the DSP who live permanently overseas but return to Australia every 13 weeks in order to retain their pension, effective from January 2011.
  • Establishing a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink from 1 July 2010 to give DSP assessors independent advice on medical issues including what might be suitable treatment to help someone return to work. This will allow more thorough assessment of borderline claims.
  • Introducing new payments for an applicant’s treating doctors when they provide further information on the claimant at the request of the Health Professional Advice Unit from 1 July 2010. This will allow DSP assessors to get further details on an individual’s case to make a fully informed assessment.

These reforms will increase scrutiny of borderline DSP applicants and fast-track assessments of people who are clearly and profoundly disabled.

As a result of this package of reforms an estimated 1,500 people, previously ineligible for DSP, are expected to be granted the pension. In addition, it is estimated that 6,500 claimants, who would otherwise have received DSP, will no longer be eligible.

The following organisations have been invited to join the advisory committee:

  • Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) Limited
  • National Disability Services
  • The Mental Health Council of Australia
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission
  • National People with Disabilities and Carers Council
  • CRS Australia
  • The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
  • The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
  • Australian Psychological Society
  • Occupational Therapy Australia