Dr Ellen Skladzien, Chief Executive Officer, Down Syndrome Australia
Thank you for your letter of 2 December 2016. I would like to apologise for any concern or distress caused as a result of last week’s Parliamentary hearing. Please be assured of our understanding of the permanent, genetic and congenital nature of Down syndrome, and its capacity to produce physical and developmental outcomes including a level of intellectual disability. We also appreciate that many Australians are affected by Down syndrome and the role of your organisation is critically important in assisting them, and the general community, with support, information and resources.
I would like to offer some additional context relevant to the hearing in Canberra which may be of assistance to you. As you know, the focus of the hearing was on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) administered by the Department of Human Services (the department), including eligibility criteria and assessment processes. The central issue in DSP eligibility is the extent of any physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment affecting a person’s ability to work for 15 hours or more per week within the next two years because of the impairment. It is important to distinguish this issue from the separate issue of whether a person is likely to be cured of their condition or disability.
The department is very conscious that there can be significant variability between different people with Down syndrome in the level and types of impairment that they may experience. On this basis, we assess each claim for DSP on individual circumstances, with a particular focus on a person’s functional ability, rather than their disability.
In relation to the recently commenced series of medical reviews, which was an Australian Government measure in the 2015-16 Budget, the department is making every effort to avoid initiating a medical review for people who are manifestly eligible for DSP, or where we have information which indicates that they are likely to be manifestly eligible. Unfortunately, we do not always have complete or detailed information for all DSP recipients on our systems, especially if a person was granted DSP many years ago. This means that there are a small number of people contacted for review who then provide us with information indicating their manifest eligibility for DSP. We take every effort to immediately update our systems and provide reassurance to the person concerned that they will not be contacted for a medical review in the future. I would also note that a dedicated team of staff is available to respond to enquiries or concerns about the DSP medical review process, and can be directly reached by contacting the department’s enquiry line on 13 27 17 and choosing option ‘3’.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me outlining your concerns. I hope the information I have provided above has been of assistance. I would welcome your publication of this letter on your website, when you publish your correspondence to me on the same topic. The department will publish this response on our website.
Kathryn Campbell CSC