Multi-billion dollar NDIS scheme ‘riddled with fraud’
Thousands of dollars a day stolen from vulnerable clients on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is automatically reimbursed without being investigated, a whistleblower has revealed.
Former senior fraud investigator John Higgins, who spent decades working for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), has spoken exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph, revealing the extent of fraud dogging the multi-billion dollar agency.
Mr Higgins was one of a dwindling number of full-time fraud investigators chasing crooks ripping off the NDIS when he left the agency last year, frustrated by inaction.
He said investigators were swamped with tip-offs they didn't have the resources to chase and dodgy providers bill vulnerable clients for services they don't provide each day.
In 2018, the Federal Government established the NDIS Fraud Taskforce to tackle serious fraud which NDIS Minister Stuart Robert says is proof of the Government's commitment to finding scammers. "Perpetrators can and will be dealt with through the criminal justice system," Mr Robert said.
But Mr Higgins said the taskforce was focused on large-scale corruption and investigators were failing to deal with hundreds of smaller scams happening each day.
In one case he said a so-called provider was invoicing a client for two hours of cleaning to drop off a loaf of bread and a packet of cigarettes.
"These are not geniuses (sic) doing this, it is so simple to rip off," Mr Higgins said.
"People have got plans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars which is great, but the
money isn't going to those who need it."
The former public servant turned whistleblower said clients who notice money missing from their plan are automatically reimbursed and the missing money is rarely chased up.
"There are almost no checks and balances," he said.
In a startling claim, the former AFP officer said in cases where scammers were pursued, investigators obtained documents such as bank statements and pay slips using section 55 orders. A section 55 notice gives the NDIS the power to force businesses or individuals to hand over information if the agency wants to check whether providers are complying with the rules.
Mr Higgins told The Sunday Telegraph the agency sought advice from the Solicitor-General after staff raised concerns about the legality of using documents obtained with section 55 notices in criminal investigations.
Mr Higgins allegations were put to the NDIS which said its taskforce does not obtain evidence under section 55 of the NDIS Act for criminal investigation.
A spoksesperson said any advice the agency sought regarding the use of the notices was "not provided on the basis that the Agency may have been using section 55 inappropriately but rather was obtained to verify that the Agency had been complying with requirements".
But the agency was unable to say how many investigators it had on staff, how much was lost to fraud last year or reveal the ongoing operation cost of the fraud taskforce.
Mr Higgins alleges that it was "widely-known" among his colleagues that the agency believed as many as one in 10 claims from the $22 billion system could be fraudulent.
"They are effectively saying we except $2 billion in fraud," Mr Higgins said.
The Sunday Telegraph has seen a work contract that show Mr Higgins was employed as a Senior Investigations Officer between January and September 2019. He said there was 99 jobs waiting when he left and prosecutions were rare.
Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten called for Mt Higgins' claims to be investigated.
"They need to fix this immediately and publicly investigate and explain how this disgraceful situation has come about," Mr Shorten said.
"Why is he so hard on people with disability but so soft on criminals?" Mr Shorten said.
"This is the $2b great disability robbery."
Mum-of-two Shannon Manning who has been waiting for a new wheelchair for her severely disabled daughter for almost two years said the NDIS was "rife with dodgy providers".
Ms Manning's daughter Meadow, 8, has severe autism, an intellectual disability and epilepsy. She is too big for her wheelchairbut has been told there is no funds available to purchase her a new one.
Ms Manning told The Sunday Telegraph vulnerable Australians were being ripped off while "dodgy providers make hundreds of dollars and hour'.
She said she had made about 15 complaints about providers who don't provide the services they promise but none of her complaintswere investigated. Instead, Ms Manning was audited which revealed her daughter was owed more money.
"I can tell you story after story of people that set themselves up as supporter workers with no experience," she said. "They charge the full NDIS rate irrespective of their skills and ability."
"They are crippling the disabled."
Ms Manning urged NDIS participants to dob in dodgy providers ripping off the system
"They are in it to make the money," she said.
"People need to start reporting them but people are scared to question these people."
"We need to not be scared and to speak out."