Warrnambool resident Neima Isaac received a devastating phone call last Christmas.
The Macey's Bistro kitchen hand who has an intellectual disability was notified the support she had been receiving from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for eight years would stop.
The decision came as a shock to Ms Isaac who said the phone call was the first time she found out her funding was under review.
She later discovered the NDIS had sent a letter to her old address informing her of a scheduled review meeting months prior.
"I didn't get it for months after, a friend found it and gave it to me," Ms Isaac said.
By then, Ms Isaac said she had missed her meeting date and the scheme decided to cease her funding on the basis she displayed evidence of being an "independent" and "mature" person.
Ms Isaac said she did not receive any other contact from the NDIS between the letter and review dates even though they had her phone number and other contact details.
"The only time they called me, the lady said you're no longer eligible for the funding," she said.
Ms Isaac has since been left to fend for herself or rely on the kindness of friends.
"It was sad," she said.
"I still need it (the funding). I want it back."
Ms Isaac had been receiving NDIS grants since its inception in 2013, requiring disability support funding to assist with everyday tasks including cooking, shopping, paperwork, and travel to appointments and social activities.
"I need someone to help with paperwork. Some of them have big words and I don't understand what they mean," she said.
"I don't drive. If I need to go shopping, I need someone to drive."
According to South West Advocacy Association executive officer Jennie Trigg, Ms Isaac is just one of an "inundation" of south-west NDIS participants to have their funding reduced or cut in the last year.
"These people have disabilities. It's no good throwing them money for a few years, and then leaving them high and dry. They need ongoing support," Ms Trigg said.
"To be eligible for NDIS, you need to have a permanent disability."
"If you're eligible to have funding for X amount of time, then what right do they have to say, 'we've funded you for two to three years, you're on your own now'."
Ms Trigg has been assisting Ms Isaac with appeals to get back on the NDIS, but has faced fierce legal and bureaucratic barriers.
"The appeals process is quite intimidating," she said.
"NDIS are absolutely not frightened to throw money at lawyers, and clients have advocates that don't necessarily have the same law experience. That's not what we get paid to do."
"These people that need the funding, are left with no defense."
IN OTHER NEWS
Ms Isaac's experience came as the latest NDIS quarterly report revealed participants' average plan sizes fell 4 per cent from 2020 to 2021, equating to a drop of about $2700 per person.
Wannon Labor candidate Gilbert Wilson said his party would continue to defend assistance to people with disabilities and echoed Labor NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten's pledge to investigate the "tens of millions of dollars in legal fees incurred by the NDIA".
"We will stop the unfair cuts to NDIS plans, (and) lift the cap on staffing levels at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)," he said.
"Labor will strengthen the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission so that the scheme works to properly support people with disabilities who rely on the scheme, their families, carers, service providers and workers."
Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said there had not been cuts to the NDIS and "any suggestion of cuts are nothing more than Labor lies".
"The Liberal Government has delivered year-on-year funding increases to this world-leading scheme, growing from around $8 billion before the NDIS to $33.9 billion budgeted for 2022-23," he said.
"In the March 2022 Budget, the Liberal Government provided record investment in the NDIS of $157.8 billion over four years."
Mr Tehan said as an insurance scheme, individual plans were able to go up or down depending on needs assessed by the NDIA.
"All NDIS participants are provided with detailed reasons for any NDIA decision, whether that be any increase or decrease to their plan," he said.
"The NDIA continues to make decisions on reasonable and necessary supports consistent with the NDIS Act."
Wannon independent candidate Alex Dyson said a review of the scheme was "extremely necessary".
"It should listen to participants' lived experience and ensure that it is a service that caters to the needs rather than to collect as many participants as possible," he said.
"I've talked to quite a few participants of the scheme, and what I'm hearing from them is that it is very difficult to navigate.
"It needs to be something that is funded adequately, but looking into the efficiencies and ease with which people can utilise it is also important."
He promised to visit and hear the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in Wannon and communicate them to parliament if elected.
Greens candidate for Wannon Hilary McAllister said the Morrison government's slashing of NDIS individual plans' cost was "an absolute disgrace".
"It beggars belief that the government would seek to hollow out a scheme that supports people to live their best lives, and ignore disabled voices when they tell them what is wrong," she said.
Ms McAllister said the Greens would commit $300 million to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, remove the "arbitrary" and "discriminatory" over-65 age limit preventing people from entering NDIS, lift NDIA staffing caps to at least 10,000, and invest in a better NDIS digital access system.
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