Access to support for working-age Australians with disability without individual NDIS funding

What is this research about?

More than 500,000 Australians receive individual funding through the NDIS to purchase support and services to meet their disability-related needs. They are called NDIS participants. This funding was never intended to be an oasis in the desert for Australians with disability, however.

There are 4.4 million Australians with disability, including 2.1 million of working age.

Inclusion of people with disability in mainstream society is a critical component of the NDIS insurance model. It can prevent, reduce or delay the need for people with disability to access specialist disability services and individual funding through the NDIS, and improve outcomes for them and their families.

This research, conducted by The Melbourne Disability Institute in partnership with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence and Baptcare in 2021, examined if and how people with disability aged 18-64 years who are not NDIS participants are finding and using any support and services they need to participate in society and the economy.

Our approach

This research aims to shed light on how working-age people with disability are faring in Australia. The experiences of people with disability aged 65 years and over, and those under 18, are no less important. However, we identified a gap in evidence related to people with disability aged 15-64 years outside the NDIS that could have direct and significant implications for the scheme and Australia’s Disability Strategy.

We collected data in Victoria, South Australia or Tasmania through:

  1. A high level desktop scan of the service landscape
  2. Two online surveys – one for people with disability aged 18-64 years living in Victoria, Tasmania or South Australia who are not NDIS participants, and one for families and carers of people with disability with the same criteria.
  3. Focus groups involving representatives from service providers, peak bodies, advocacy organisations and Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs)

We discuss the limitations of our method in our research reports. It is important to note that the data is not representative of all stakeholders in the landscape of services and support navigated by people with disability who are not NDIS participants. However, it offers important insights into financial, logistical, and personal challenges faced by people with disability in their day-to-day lives.

Our findings (In brief)

  • There is a significant gap between the promoted availability and accessibility of support and services to people with disability who are not NDIS participants, and people’s experiences of attempting to find and use them.
  • Being in or out of the NDIS has a significant financial and personal impact on people with disability and their families. Support promised under ‘Tier 2’ in the original design of the NDIS has not been delivered.
  • For the most part, the knowledge, experiences, needs, and priorities of people with disability outside the NDIS, their families, carers, and advocates, and those interacting with them in the community, are not being captured in government data informing disability policy and practice.
  • Our research reveals complex, disconnected and incomplete markets of services and supports being navigated by people with disability and their families and carers; a service ecosystem riddled with inconsistent costs, eligibility criteria, information, priorities and availability of services; and unsustainable reliance on informal support networks and personal resources among people with disability without NDIS funding.

Research Reports

Olney S, Mills A & Fallon L (2022) The Tier 2 tipping point: access to support for working-age Australians with disability without individual NDIS funding. Melbourne Disability Institute, University of Melbourne ISBN 978 0 7340 5695 5

Download the Executive Summary Report:
Download the Executive Summary Report (PDF)

Download the Research Report:
Download the full research report (PDF)

If you would like to view the executive summary or the full research report in Microsoft Word, please email us at


Papers and Presentations

  • International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM) conference presentation 20 April 2022: Network Governance Challenges in promoting inclusion for people with disability Dr. Sue Olney, Dr. Amber Mills, Liam Fallon
  • RMIT Future/Inclusive Festival 18 July 2022 Panel discussion The Gap Between Talk and Action on Disability Inclusion Rae West, Kirsten Deane, Campbell Message, Sue Olney (Melbourne Disability Institute) and Amber Mills (Brotherhood of St Laurence)
  • Virtual Disability Conference 21 September 2022 Symposium Inequality, inequity and inclusion – What exactly do we expect the National Disability Insurance Scheme to deliver?


Research team

  • Dr Sue Olney, Research Fellow, Melbourne Disability Institute,
  • Dr Amber Mills, Senior Research Fellow, Brotherhood of St. Laurence
  • Liam Fallon, Research Officer, Brotherhood of St. Laurence

This research has HREC ethics approval from the University of Melbourne (ID number 2021-20990-14119-10).