Existing providers of home support services will be funded for two years as part of the transition to the new Commonwealth Home Support Program from 1 July, the Abbott Government announced on Thursday.
Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the vast majority of current providers will continue to deliver services under the new CHSP and will be offered two years of service funding until 30 June 2017, including an initial period of transition.
Current contracts with the Department of Social Services will be extended for four months until 31 October 2015 to assist with transition arrangements to the CHSP, after which providers will move to a new CHSP grant agreement ending 30 June 2017.
Significantly, the new agreements will be offered to providers through a non-competitive process.
Senator Fifield said these arrangements will “provide a degree of continuity and certainty to providers and their clients” as the sector transitions to the new program.
“People receiving services under the existing programs will continue to receive the same level of support now and when the CHSP begins,” he said.
The department will begin negotiating the new CHSP contracts from May 2015.
This latest news will provide welcome relief to providers that have been seeking assurances from the government about the future of service agreements.
The government confirmed the much-awaited CHSP program manual was set for an early 2015 release and there will be an opportunity for the industry to provide feedback on the manual and fees policy early next year.
Review launched into advocacy
On Thursday, the government also announced a formal review of current aged care advocacy services funded under HACC and the National Aged Care Advocacy Program.
The government said the review will commence in early 2015 and will be conducted by an external consultant.
“The outcomes of the review will inform the design of a future advocacy program accessible to residential, home care and Commonwealth Home Support clients,” said the department in an information sheet released to providers.
ACHA to form part of CHSP
Despite earlier flagging the possibility of retaining the Assistance with Care and Housing for the Aged (ACHA) program as a separate program given its specialised nature, the government has decided to roll it in with the CHSP.
This means that from 1 July, the new CHSP will amalgamate four separate home support programs – the Commonwealth Home and Community Care program, the National Respite for Carer program, the Day Therapy Centres program and ACHA Program into a streamlined system.
In Victoria and Western Australia, the jointly funded Commonwealth-state HACC programs will continue to be administered by the state governments.
COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates welcomed the government’s announcements and said they provided clarity and assurances to the sector in the short to the medium term.
Mr Yates told Australian Ageing Agenda that he was pleased a formal review of advocacy services was to be launched and he was keen to examine the review’s terms of reference.
He also said further consultation on the future of sector support and development activities was a welcome step forward.
Providers of these services will have their contracts extended to October 2015, the government said.
While July 1 will represent a ‘soft launch’, when fully implemented Mr Yates said the CHSP will be one of the most significant reforms of Living Longer Living Better.
However, Alzheimer’s Australia expressed concern about a loss of services under the transition to the new system, especially for specialist dementia services.
“The new assessment process and review of support services, including counselling, information, education and advocacy, puts into question the continued funding for specialist approaches that are vital to support the more than 332,000 Australians living with dementia,” Carol Bennett, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia said on Thursday.
“We do recognise that the intention is to cut red tape, and provide simplified grant agreements and more time to deliver services, but our priority is to ensure that the transition does not impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” she said.
Some of the specialist dementia services provided under the current funding include psycho-social support and counselling around the emotional impact of the dementia diagnosis, education for families, advocacy and the coordination of social support groups.