Can my pet dog be funded as an assistance animal under the NDIS?

There seems to be a bit of confusion surrounding what is and what isn’t possible under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) when it comes to participants being funded for assistance animals and guide dogs.

It’s a question that often pops up on social media NDIS pages – along with does the NDIS fund support for assistance animals other than dogs?

Can I claim a support parrot? An assistance cat? Emotional support dog?

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has just released its updated guideline on assistance animals including dog guides in a bid to clear up any confusion and make the funding criteria clearer.

The new guidelines give participants, providers and assessors simpler and clearer guidance on assistance animals, in particular:

  • What an assistance animal is
  • How the NDIA makes reasonable and necessary decisions regarding funding for assistance animals, including dog guides
  • What information the Agency needs to decide if it can fund an assistance animal
  • How participants can access funding in their plans for these supports
  • Examples of when the NDIA would and would not fund an assistance animal.

Assistance animals, including dog guides, are animals specially trained to help participants do things they can’t do because of their disability.

Like all Agency-funded support, the NDIA only funds assistance animals that meet its funding criteria – whether the assistance animal is a disability-related support that will help you with your disability support needs.

The NDIA can only fund an assistance animal if it’s effective and beneficial based on evidence and is value for money. It also needs to make sure it meets the definition of an assistance animal and is trained by an accredited provider.

It must be able to actively do at least three tasks that you can’t do because of your disability.

Under NDIA guidelines, an assistance animal is defined as an animal specially trained by an accredited assistance animal provider to help you do things you can’t do because of your disability.

These are things the animal wouldn’t naturally do otherwise, like guiding you through crowded places.

It’s an animal that actively helps you to do things you previously couldn’t do because of your disability. It’s not an animal or pet used for therapeutic or companion support, even if you’ve trained it to do some tasks for you.

We also know animals can be good for helping with routines and for social engagement, but these things alone don’t mean it meets the definition of an assistance animal.

For the Agency to fund an assistance animal it needs to meet all the NDIS funding criteria.

It must be effective and beneficial for you.

To help the NDIA decide if an assistance animal will be effective and beneficial for you, it has adopted the internationally recognised definition of assistance animals recommended by La Trobe University.

It describes what is and isn’t an assistance animal. La Trobe University worked with 50 international experts to look at reports and industry websites and get agreement about the best definition for assistance animals. You can read the full La Trobe University report – Key terms for animals in disability assistance roles here.

When we talk about the tasks the assistance animal does to help you, this means active things that:

  • The animal wouldn’t naturally do that help you manage your disability
  • Means you need less of your other funded support.

The tasks might be things like:

  1. Open and close doors or fridges
  2. Open and close drawers or cupboards
  3. Pick up dropped items
  4. Reassure you in times of extreme anxiety such as helping you to leave your home when you’re too frightened to go out
  5. Press the button at traffic lights
  6. Take clothes out of the washing machine
  7. Help you find your way around safely, including stopping at kerbs and stairs
  8. Guide you through crowds
  9. Find a spare seat on a bus
  10. Help you find doors on cars and trains
  11. Blocking or being a barrier to other people if needed.

The NDIA also will check if the assistance animal has passed the public access test. This is so the Agency knows it will be able to support you in the community.

The types of assistance animals the NDIA fund are:

  • Dog guides
  • Hearing assistance animals
  • Physical assistance animals
  • Assistance animals for some participants who have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with long term but stable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who are able to take on the ongoing responsibilities of a primary handler.

The way the NDIA makes decisions to fund assistance animals has not changed – terms and processes have just been clarified in the new guidelines, including funding for animals when they’re not yet fully trained.

Participants no longer need to wait until the animal is fully trained and qualified for funding to be provided, if having animal assistance as a support is reasonable and necessary.

If you are lucky enough to be approved for an NDIS-funded assistance dog, the NDIA will include the support in your Capital – Assistive technology budget.

Your plan will describe the supports and what the funding can be used for, such as:

  • The cost of the assessment to match the animal with you
  • Buying or leasing a suitable, and fully qualified assistance animal, or
  • milestone payments while the animal is trained by an accredited assistance animal provider. If you need to make milestone payments for the animal to be trained, the NDIS will usually fund the payments according to your plan management type and quote.

For example, if you self manage, the NDIS may fund all the money to your plan up front. Then you’re responsible for making the payments according to your service agreement and quote.

The NDIS will also include ongoing maintenance costs for the assistance animal in your plan. This will be described in your Core – Consumables budget. It will cover maintenance support as long as the assistance animal is a reasonable and necessary disability support for your needs.

The NDIA also published the following updates to the Would we fund it guide to clarify how assistance animals, therapy animals and pets and companion animals are funded:

The Agency has also updated the Assistance Animals.

View Our Guideline – Assistance animals including dog guides for further information.

There’s no denying the benefits of therapy dogs and animals. The benefits of them in schools, nursing homes and even hospices are undeniable.

However, the La Trobe University report also talks about other types of animals which are NOT considered assistance animals.

These include:

  • Companion animals – an animal kept for company or fun, including pets
  • Emotional support animals – an animal that provides emotional and informal support
  • Therapy animals – an animal that takes part in therapy activities that are led by a therapist
  • Facility animals – an animal that may or may not live onsite and is trained to work in a specific facility or type of facility, such as a residential aged care home
  • Visitation animals – an animal that belongs to a volunteer or provider and is trained to visit residential, health, or educational facilities. These animals bring enjoyment to the clients or students.

The Agency won’t generally don’t fund medical alert animals, even though they can sometimes be seen as a type of assistance animal. This is because there’s currently not enough evidence about the effectiveness of these animals, having regard to current good practice.

All these types of animals can be helpful in your life, but they’re unlikely to meet NDIS funding criteria.

So, we are sorry to say, your assistance parrot, therapy cat or pet dog – even though they bring comfort and joy to your life – won’t be funded under the NDIA unless, of course, they fulfil the above criteria.

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