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How to start up as an Independent Disability Support Worker in Australia in 2023

Becoming an Independent Support Worker in Australia is not only a rewarding endeavour but also an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. However, like any other business, you need to have all the checks and balances in place for compliance.

To help you navigate the process, we have compiled a comprehensive checklist outlining essential steps to establishing your business in Australia. By following this guide, you can ensure that you’re well prepared to provide quality care and support to those in need.

Startup Costs & Considerations

  1. Decide whether your business structure will be a sole trader or a company. Most independent support workers are sole traders, meaning they don’t employ anyone.

  2. You’ll need an Australian Business number to operate as an independent support worker. Sign up for an ABN on the government ABR website. This is the only website that won’t charge you to apply for an ABN. It's free!

  3. Some notes on your ABN application: 
    The nature of your activity - answer is ‘In the form of a business’
    Have your tax file number on hand

  4. Working with Children Check is a must (aka the blue card in Qld). Apply online via the relevant State government website. Usually under $100. The application sometimes requires you provide JP certified documents so get this underway asap if you haven’t already.

    If you are working with adults or children who are disabled, you must legally have a working with children check finalised before you start work. You do not need to wait until the card is mailed to you, just ensure you have the email saying you are approved. The website says 28 days to get your application approved but most people I know have theirs approved within 24-72 hours.

  5. NDIS Disability Worker Screening - Yellow Card – google your State’s website for the application. You don’t legally need an NDIS disability worker screening card unless you are a registered NDIS provider or you are working with a participant who is NDIA managed. However some clients will ask for it.  It’s a long process to apply for this, so get it underway asap. Usually under $150 to apply in each State.

    Some States like Qld offer a combined working with children / worker screening card application. Please look into it, as it will save a great deal of time.

  6. National Police Check – only if requested by the client. The Working with Children Check already does a thorough police check as part of your application but if it's been a while since you applied for your blue card, the client may request a police check. You can apply directly through the Australian Federal Police for a cost of $42.00.

  7. Research Public liability and Professional indemnity insurance. Most workers in my experience go through Bizcover as they give you a couple of premium choices. The quote process takes about 15 minutes. The premiums are usually under $50 per month, depending on the projected income you provide in the application.

    $10 million cover for each of these types of insurances should be adequate. These insurances are a must and participants will request you have them before you start.  

  8. NDIS Worker Orientation Module. This is a free online 90-minute module that I encourage you to complete as part of your business research and as an induction into how the NDIS works, how you fit into the grand scheme of things and what your obligations are as a person who provides support to an NDIS participant.

  9. Look into the costs of WorkCover personal accident/injury insurance. This type of insurance protects you from loss of income if you have an injury on the job that prevents you from working. I know personally of a support worker who was attacked on the job resulting in broken hand bones. This prevented him from working for a month, during which he would have been glad to have injury insurance.

  10. Join your local NDIS related Facebook page where service providers, participants and their families connect. Assess what is the current demand for support workers? Is there anyone currently looking for support? If you check the rules, you can usually advertise your availability on these pages to gain clients.

  11. Grab a lanyard, put your blue card and/or worker screening card in it and keep it on you at all times on the job. You’ll find that the public respond better to you when you’re identified as an official support person and you'll also look awesome.  

    One of the best sites I've found selling lanyards is The Lanyard Factory. Sometimes it's difficult to find a lanyard with an ID Card holder that is sold in single pack but these guys do it and ship fast Australia wide.

 Legal and Administrative

  1. Spirax 500 Tax Invoice Book
    Ensure you have an invoice book or invoicing app researched. The cheapest place to buy a Tax Invoice book suitable for disability support is the Spirax Tax Invoice Book on Amazon for around $12.50 which is more cost effective than buying at the newsagent or Officeworks.

    Shipping from the Amazon warehouses in Australia these days is also quite fast. I have found this book to be perfect for clients. Plan managed customers though, may ask you to invoice through their Plan Management company, most of which have a website where you will fill out an electronic invoice.

  2. Purchase a travel logbook. The Zion Vehicle Logbook from Officeworks
    Zion Vehicle Logbook
    or your Newsagent is ideal for a small business. Keep it in your car at all times, so you can claim kilometres at tax time which can make a huge difference to how much tax you pay. There are three methods for claiming travel – Logbook, Cents per Km and Actual Costs. See this ATO link to see which one is easiest for you ATO Deductions for Motor Vehicle Expenses

  3. Set up a spreadsheet or purchase a book to record your business
    Invoice and Travel Tracker
    receipts. These include the cost of – working with children check, insurances, training, vehicle expenses, gloves, masks, and any other expenses related to the operation of your business.

    Note that these days I don’t keep fuel receipts, simply because when you log kilometres, you have all of the evidence you need to claim fuel at the ATO set rate which is 78c per km for the 2022/23 financial year.  If however, you are solely using your vehicle for work and not personal use, you should keep fuel receipts.

    Check out our Invoice template that has an invoice system, travel tracker and expenses log included. It's only $7.99 and you can download it immediately.

  4. Tax Receipts - When purchasing equipment like gloves, you can take a photograph of the receipt, store it in a folder on your laptop and discard the paper receipt. The ink on paper receipts will degrade over time and if you are audited, it will be difficult to prove your business expenses unless you trawl through bank records.  Photographic evidence of receipts is perfectly acceptable for your tax records.

  5. Policies and Procedures are something most support workers don't consider when starting up a business. It's important to consider whether you need written policies for: Cancellations, Complaints/Disputes, Workplace Health & Safety (incident, accident & hazard management), Privacy & Confidentiality, Document storage, Anti-discrimination, Community access, In-home care policy, and Vehicle use by client.  The list is actually endless if you think about it. Supporttoyou.com.au are currently working on some policies and procedures for support workers so check back in with us from time to time.

    The reality is that most participants and their families won't request to view your policies and procedures. Where they come in handy is if there's an accident, incident or reported breach of care. You will be able to show that you followed your policies and procedures if the matter is investigated by an insurance company, the NDIS or the police.

  6. Consider downloading our Support Worker Bundle for $29.99. It's great
    Disability Support Worker document bundle
    value, as there are 10 useful documents for your business including our Invoicing, Travel & Expenses tracker, Timesheet for logging client hours, Incident Report form, Handwashing poster, Service Agreement for your participant, and the NDIS Incident Response Procedure, and Daily Care Record/Progress Note template, among other things.

Banking

Do you need to set up a separate bank account? No. Only if your business is running as a company. Sole traders do not need to have a separate bank account.  It is helpful for tracking purposes to ensure that all payments and purchases for your business are from the same account.

Establishing Networks and Partnerships

  1. Join professional networks and associations relevant to disability support workers to stay updated with industry trends and best practices. Look around for affordable training opportunities that you can put on your resume.  National Disability Services run some great courses.

  2. Do your research on industry events and trade shows. You can make connections with service providers that may be helpful for your client’s community access requirements and find out the latest information about the industry.

Price Guide and Service Agreement

Most clients will have an hourly rate in mind when you are negotiating invoicing rates as they need to budget their funding. Hourly rates can vary based on the time of day, i.e. Dayshift, Nightshift, Weekends, Public Holidays.

The NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits NDIS Price Guide 2023-24 will give you a guide as to what is the maximum charge available to Service Providers -- as a business owner, you are now a service provider. 

For independent support workers who don’t have the high admin costs of a big service provider, you are generally expected to charge somewhat under the price guide limit. Most clients have a target hourly rate in mind so you can negotiate with them.

In the price guide, you’ll be looking for codes related to:
a) Assistance with Self-Care Activities – Std
   (Weekday Daytime, Evening, Saturday, Sunday, etc)
b) Access Community Social & Rec Activities – Std
   (Weekday Daytime, Evening, Saturday, Sunday, etc)
c) Assistance with Self-Care Activities –
   Night-Time Sleepover (for overnight shifts where you sleep when you are not needed)

Service Agreements are not mandatory between participants and independent support workers, however they are helpful. The agreement makes clear what is expected of both parties, the charges you will be invoicing, your cancellation policy, whether travel fees are charged, your insurance provisions, complaints policy, and your policy for ending the agreement.

You can find a great service agreement template drawn up specifically for Support Workers and Participants on our website for $5.99 Disability Support Worker Service Agreement

 
By following this comprehensive checklist, you can ensure that you're well-prepared to establish a successful and sustainable business that provides quality care and support to individuals with disabilities. Remember, your passion for making a difference, combined with a solid business foundation, will help you navigate the challenges and reap the rewards of being a disability support worker in Australia.

Good luck and most of all have fun.

Amanda Watterson

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