The last three years of NDIS rollout have been dominated by discussions of costs and in our consulting work we are often surprised to see how frequently providers are leaving opportunities to increase their revenue and improve Participant outcomes on the table.
This article is the third in our Revenue Revisited series where we are exploring the ways that providers can help Participants get the best Plans possible, improve Plan spending and ensure you get paid properly. You can revisit our first two articles in the series below:
For organisations offering Support Coordination, one of the key focus areas for revisiting revenue should be your approach to maximising your Coordinators’ billable hours. This is an area that challenges many organisations so in this article we answer some of the most common questions we get about Support Coordinator’s billable hours.
Which Support Coordination tasks are considered billable?
Generally speaking, Support Coordination work is only billable if it directly benefits the person who is being billed. For example, a meeting between a Support Coordinator and a colleague where they brainstorm ways to overcome the barriers that a particular person is experiencing would be billable time. But a team meeting where Coordinators are trained in how to read the Price Guide would not be.
That said, nobody should be charged for tasks that should be covered by the organisation as the cost of doing business. This includes rostering, invoice processing, intake processes and training (unless directly related to one person’s particular support needs).
For the sake of transparency, it’s a good idea to note the types of activities that will be claimed under Support Coordination in your service agreements.
What is a reasonable billable target?
We reckon 85% billable is the absolute maximum you can reasonably expect Support Coordinators to achieve. Setting targets higher than this creates a situation where Coordinators are likely to feel pressured to overstate the hours they work and overcharge Participants. To put this in perspective, a full time Support Coordinator in Victoria is likely to work a total of 1,627 hours per year (after annual leave, sick days and public holidays) or 135 hours per month. If they are achieving their 85% billable target, this leaves just 16 hours per month for all of their team meetings, supervision, training, travel, birthday cake eating and long trips to the toilet. It’s possible to achieve but certainly not easy (or particularly sustainable).
Are writing reports and case notes billable tasks?
The NDIS Terms of Business state that providers (of all kinds) may be asked to submit progress reports to the NDIA and that “this request should be in line with the terms of the service agreement with the participant”. Particularly given that supporting people to prepare for plan review is a key role of Support Coordinators, we interpret this to mean that this time is billable so long as it is included in the individual’s service agreement.
Case notes, on the other hand, are more ambiguous and we’ve been unable to find any guidance in writing from the NDIA about whether they are billable. Support Coordinators working for registered providers are required to maintain case notes as a way of evidencing that support has taken place. This is arguably of more benefit to the provider than the Participant, particularly in organisations where internal processes around case notes are geared at pleasing auditors rather than Participants. In these cases, DSC would consider case notes a cost of doing business.
However, a best practice (and billable) approach to case noting might be to use these notes as a continuation of the capacity building role, documenting the Participant’s continued progress towards their goals, the connections explored and decisions made. These notes should be made available to the Participant upon request and handed over in some form at the end of your time working together.
What about travel?
We were hoping you wouldn’t ask. But now that you’ve brought it up….
The Price Guide does not include any rules that would allow Support Coordinators to charge for travel. It’s a long-standing omission that we understand may be clarified when the result of the Intermediaries Review is released. In the meantime, we can’t recommend that providers charge for travel.
How should we track our billable hours?
Your solution will depend on the size of your organisation. Many small organisations or sole traders use online tools like Toggl or time track through Xero. Larger organisations will likely want a time tracking tool that links to their billing software to avoid double handling of time sheets. As always, DSC does not recommend any particular software and we recommend you reach out to organisations similar to yours in size and service model to ask for advice.
What can we do to increase our billable hours?
Now this is a question we were hoping you would ask! Our Consulting team love supporting organisations to identify innovative ways to increase their percentage of billable hours (and the quality of their service.). Here are just a couple of the strategies that we’ve seen work:
Collaborate and delegate: There is huge potential for Support Coordination to be more efficiently and effectively delivered by more than one person. Explore team structures that distribute Support Coordination tasks so that, for example, a highly skilled Senior Support Coordinator (maybe a Peer Worker!) may be able to take back-to-back meetings with Participants if they are supported to complete some of the more routine tasks (e.g. provider research, Portal troubleshooting, reviewing service agreements) by a more junior Support Coordinator.
Support without hours: Reduce the amount of unpaid work you do and improve outcomes for Participants by exploring ways to deliver support without a staff member present. Developing your own online training, Easy Read resources or moderated Facebook groups are great ways to build Participant’s capacity (and double as a great way to train new Support Coordinators!). This is particularly useful if you find your Support Coordinators are spending a lot of hours supporting people after their funding has run out.
Build the culture: A major barrier to increasing billable hours in some organisations is internal resistance to the idea of charging people for their time. At DSC, one of our favourite sayings is culture eats process for breakfast, because culture has both the appetite and the power to override even the best processes. The challenge here is to build a culture based on values-based commerciality, where everyone realises that we can achieve more of the mission and values with a commercially healthy organisation.