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New research uncovers emotional burden felt by disability support applicants

Australians receiving the disability support pension (DSP) are finding the process burdensome and extremely stressful, according to new research from Monash University.

Researchers asked 518 people who are applying or receiving the DSP about their experience and the way it has impacted their everyday lives. 

Out of 518 people surveyed, 71 per cent reported having high levels of stress when applying for payments. Over two thirds felt that the overall learning costs of the process were high.

More than 750,000 Australians rely on the disability support pension. 

Many people receiving payments are aged between 40 and 70, and most will stay on it until they qualify for the age pension.

Changes made to the eligibility criteria during the Gillard government era saw a tightening of requirements, meaning that applicants have to work harder to show they are eligible. 

“What should be a relatively straightforward administrative process, of applying for government financial support, is having a very significant impact on people,” said the lead author Professor Alex Collie.

“Essentially we now ask people to undergo a complex, time-consuming and sometimes intrusive application process when they are really very ill and struggling.”

People applying for the DSP must undergo a 18 months work participation or job seeking program, complete work and capacity assessments, income and asset tests, and fill out a 33 page form with additional pages.

During a recent senate inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the DSP, advocates drew attention to the impact the process was having on people with mental and physical disabilities. 

“​​Many financial counsellors report that just the process of applying for the DSP has exacerbated a client's existing physical and mental health conditions,” said Georgia Robenstone, the campaigns advocacy manager at Financial Counselling Victoria.

“There is very little formal support available for people when they are applying, so many are left to their own limited resources.”

The inquiry also heard concerns from the First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) over the initiatives applicability for people living with a disability in Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities.

According to the FPDN submission, many people living in rural and remote areas were unable to lodge a DSP claim due a lack of readily available services and culturally safe resources.

Two in five Indigenous households in Australia rely on the DSP, according to past reports.

Organisations including the Salvation Army are now calling for an overhaul of the system to ensure that people can access the pension if they need it.

A final report from the senate inquiry committee is expected by 30 November.

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