People applying for the disability support pension (DSP) will soon be assessed under strict new criteria to be introduced by Centrelink.
From January next year, the government plans to introduce new impairment tables to assess the severity of impact a medical condition has on a person's level of ability to work.
There are 15 tables in total including, for example, one for ‘functions requiring physical exertion and stamina’ and another for ‘mental health function’.
Each table allows the assessor to rate, on a five point scale, whether any impairment has none, a mild, a moderate, a severe or an extreme functional impact on that person’s ability to work.
A diagnosis of HIV, for example, carries no point value on its own; however, HIV may impact across various tables.
To date, DSP applicants have been able to accumulate points across a range of health ‘areas’ in order to amass the minimum points required for eligibility. The new changes will mean that applicants who fail to attract an impairment rating of ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ in any one table are likely to be required to undertake a period of rehabilitation – pending eligibility to DSP.
Welfare Rights says it is behind the government's efforts to assist disabled people into work ‘where it is a realistic option’.
‘However, in the worst case scenario we could be looking at a situation where just over a third of claims for the disability support pension are granted,’ National Welfare Rights spokesperson, Maree O'Halloran has said.
While there have been assurances from the government that these new rules will only affect new applicants, there are concerns that current pensioners who attract regular reviews may also be required to meet these new criteria.
Every year, 30,000 people already on the pension have their cases reviewed and 11,400 would lose their pension if assessed under these new rules. This could see people with disabilities shifted on to the Newstart Allowance, which attracts $237 a week, $128 a week less than the DSP.
Consumer groups, including NAPWHA, are concerned that the supports required to assist applicants through a period of transition have not been put in place.
Greens welfare spokeswoman Rachel Siewert says the changes ‘are designed to restrict access to disability support, not help people into the workforce’.
A spokesman for Senator Siewert said the Greens were ‘not disposed to support the bill unless the Senate inquiry into the tables can prove the changes will be beneficial.'
This would mean the government may have to rely on the opposition to get the measures through the Senate, where the Greens hold the balance of power.