Service Agreements 101 | Incorporating Choice and Control

If you’re an NDIS participant, you will be familiar with the term Service Agreement, which is the written contract between you and your service provider and details the support to be provided.

Service Agreements can be complicated. Each provider has their own way of doing things,  which can make it hard for participants receiving multiple supports.

In this article, we attempt to break down Service Agreements and share our way of approaching things, which prioritises making it as simple and straightforward as possible. It’s just one of the ways we work to ensure  you continue to have choice and control before, during and after the delivery of services.

What is a Service Agreement anyway?

If you visit a dentist for costly surgery, you verbally agree to go ahead with the procedure. If you have a leaky tap, you simply call out a plumber and agree upon a time for the plumber to come out to make the repairs. These are service agreements and don’t require a written contract.

In contrast, it seems like Service Agreements with people with disability are far from basic; often with multiple pages, fine print and confusing, restricting clauses which sound rigid and legally binding. They are poorly conceived and look really scary, which in effect can keep a participant unwillingly seemingly stuck in a service and therefore a marginalised life. Where is the choice and control?

The phrase ‘choice and control’ is very popular today, appearing in many policies and funding guidelines. The historical pattern for people with disability is that often they may be used to others making decisions for them, or simply not having enough options to consider when making choices from service providers. In the instance of service providers, we often see decisions surrounding the type of support and the delivery of support not being made (or run by) the person with a disability. When a person hasn’t had a say or been listened to, this lessens the likelihood of respect and trust within the relationship; a symptom of disempowerment.

Again we ask, where is the choice and control? The answer doesn’t lie in more paperwork, it lies in better communication between the participant and the service provider, and higher standards of support.

When you elect to receive services with NDIS funding, you will need to agree with the provider as to what exactly will be provided and how much it will cost. The agreement you make doesn’t have to be in writing, but it is helpful to have a written agreement to refer to, in case you experience problems later on. The written agreement could be an email between you and the provider, or it might be a formal document that has been signed by both parties. The agreement need not dictate every detail about the service; it simply needs to outlay the expectation that has been mutually agreed upon.

Is it a requirement to sign a Service Agreement before I can commence services with my NDIS funding?

No, unless you are receiving Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA). The NDIS does recommend that participants have a Service Agreement with organisations they are purchasing services from. They are optional. If you want a written Service Agreement, you don’t necessarily need to sign it for it to be valid . If you don’t have a Service Agreement, you are still protected by Australian Consumer Law which clearly states the obligations of a service provider in any situation.

What if I don’t understand my Service Agreement?

You should not sign any agreement if you do not fully understand what it all means. You have the right to receive a  Service Agreement in a language and format that you understand. You can also reach out for help from family/carers, friends, your Support Coordinator, Local Area Coordinator or an advocate to better understand the agreement. You can ask the service to remove items in the agreement. You can also ask the service to add items that are important to you.

How does St Jude’s approach Service Agreements

We’ve transformed the way we provide service agreements at St Jude’s Disability Services. Our Service Agreements are an acknowledgement of our relationship with you. We don’t stipulate a minimum roster for services, nor do we lock you  into time based contracts or termination policies. The amount of support you receive from us is your choice and can be agreed upon between you and our dedicated staff member. Our agreement also contains all the vital information you need to know about your rights, what we need from you, what you can expect to receive from us and how to provide feedback about our services.

We look forward to seeing how service providers continue to innovate their processes around Service Agreements, as we all work together toward ensuring our community is empowered to have choice and control when it comes to receiving NDIS funded support. 

References: Adapted from VALiD Frequently Asked Questions, Jane Sherwin Good Ideas for Better Lives and What does an agreement do for participants?