A new taskforce to crackdown on unfair price hikes for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants is now operational.

The Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten MP, and the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury, Andrew Leigh MP, have worked together to set up the taskforce to put a stop to the overcharging of NDIS participants.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) will chair the taskforce, together with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The NDIS Commission will tackle illegal overcharging of NDIS participants. The ACCC will focus on investigating and clamping down on misleading conduct, unfair contract terms and anti-competitive agreements that might impact NDIS participants, while supporting the taskforce’s work.

The Albanese Government increased funding to the ACCC last year, announcing $6.7 million dollars to be invested over four years. This will ensure that they can support the NDIS Commission, as well as investigate and act against dodgy providers who make false or misleading representations about their products or services.

From this week, every NDIS participant, their carers, guardians, and nominees, will receive a letter explaining their rights and how to fight back against the NDIS “wedding tax” – where prices are increased just because someone is on the NDIS.

Minister Shorten said the new taskforce is part of a broader plan to close loopholes and defend the NDIS.

“The era of ripping off disabled people on the NDIS is over,” Minister Shorten said.

“Charging you more just because you are simply an NDIS participant is wrong and it is a breach of federal law. We have upgraded the NDIS rules to make it clear overcharging is prohibited and we have further legal changes coming to more strongly prohibit and punish such practices.”

Those found in breach of this federal law could face severe action imposed by the NDIS Commission. Penalties include permanent banning, infringement and compliance notices, civil financial penalties and/or injunctions imposed and, where fraud is suspected, urgent referral to the fraud fusion taskforce for criminal sanctions against the provider found guilty of rip-offs.

“Participants and the disability sector have known about this problem for years. We finally have the legal powers to fix it with this taskforce and changes to the NDIS Code of Conduct. I know most service providers are doing the right thing, but there is a small minority of swindlers who are giving everyone a bad name”.

Assistant Minister Leigh said the work the ACCC will undertake with the NDIS Commission and the NDIA will be monumental to people with disability.

“The ACCC will remain a tough cop on the beat, with additional resourcing to take action against providers who breach the existing consumer protection laws,” Assistant Minister Leigh said.

“When you are on the NDIS you have a legal right to pay a fair and reasonable rate and not be a subjected to price hikes. You also have a right to not be pressured into buying a support or service you don’t want or need.”

President of People with Disability Australia and NDIS participant Marayke Jonkers welcomed the new protections and penalties for dodgy operators.

“NDIS participants are not cash cows and we’re sick of being ripped off. We deserve to be safe and get value for money, just like any other consumer. These changes will help end the practice of charging us more for the same service simply because we’re on the NDIS while putting the onus on the providers to do the right thing,” she said.

Long standing service providers have been leaders in this area and have worked with the Government to implement the changes needed. Their leadership will ensure these reforms are a success.

Rob White from Alliance 20, a group of Australia’s largest services providers, said that long established disability service providers work hard to improve the integrity of the NDIS for all participants.

“This action is another positive move towards strengthening the NDIS. We are committed to working together with the Government and partner Agencies to eliminate all rip-offs and safeguard the Scheme.”

Ability First chief executive Andrew Rowley said his organisation fully supports the taskforce.

“Our members have zero tolerance for fraud. We support the Minister and the Government stopping this fraudulent behaviour and defending NDIS participants from dodgy operators,” Mr Rowley said.

If you are concerned you are being overcharged, please email the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission at pricehelp@ndiscommission.gov.au or call 1800 035 544. For information about your consumer rights, or to make a report to the ACCC please visit accc.gov.au

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