Blowouts in processing times under the National Disability Insurance Scheme are being driven by an arbitrary cap on the number of staff the agency can employ, MPs have been told.
A joint parliamentary inquiry is looking at the shortcomings of the planning processes under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It has been inundated with horror stories of potential participants waiting months for their plan to be finalised, or up to 15 days for an email to be returned.
But the Community and Public Sector Union says fixing the scheme will not be possible without scrapping the average staffing level cap.
It said the ceiling of 3500 staff has meant the agency has had to outsource much of its work.
More than 7000 people working for the agency are employed through labour hire firms of local area coordinators.
But inadequate staffing levels and insecure employment had led to high staff turnover, high workloads and loss of expertise within the agency, the union said.
"Our members are telling us the staffing cap is having a huge impact on their ability to give quality service, with great swathes of the scheme outsourced," Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said.
Labour hire staff were being placed on rolling contracts, which gave them little job security and led to high staff turnover.
That gave NDIS participants little continuity, meaning they had to tell their story over and over again to different staff.
Outsourcing staff had even created more work in some cases, Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.
Labour hire staff also did not have the authority to approve plans, which meant their plans had to be audited by ongoing staff.
Staff in the call centre often did not have access to the information participants requested on hand, so they had to do callbacks.
On top of this, staff were under pressure to churn through a backlog of more than 10,000 reviews.
Hundreds of reviews were "dropping off" because no one can get to them in time, the union said.
And staff were reporting high levels of anxiety before calling participants who had been waiting months for their cases to to be examined.
"I shake every time I go to make a call," one worker told the union.
None of this comes cheap either.
Ms Vincent-Pietsch said the NDIA spent $430 million on labour hire in the last finical year.
"Imagine if they scrapped the cap and invested that in ongoing employees," Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.
"Lots of labour hire staff are great staff but they won't stay unless there's longer term job security. It's not like they can say they don't have the money. It's frittering through their hands as it's being given to labour hire companies."
The government last year lifted the cap by 750 staff and rolled out extra training to 6000 planners and front-line staff.
But the Productivity Commission argued in 2017 the cap should be axed entirely.
It said limiting the number of staff directly employed by the agency was a risk for the new organisation, as it made it difficult to build institutional expertise and capability.
SA Child and Adolescent Health Community of Practice deputy chair Maeve Downes told the committee she had major concerns about the expertise of many planners in the scheme.
"Acknowledging the rapid demand for a NDIS skilled planner workforce, the increased recruitment came without the required quality systems and governance processes in place to ensure children's needs are equitably and consistently assessed within a reasonable timeframe," her submission said.
The Disability Council NSW said its members often waited between 10 and 15 days to receive a response to emails from the planners carrying out their reviews.
"Such delays are unacceptable," the council told the committee.
Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the cap was having a devastating effect on the services the scheme could provide.
"The lifting of the staffing cap would not just get full time expertise and knowhow back into the system this would flow through to fewer stressful and often painful delays for services and assisted technology such as hoists and wheelchairs," Mr Shorten said.
However a spokeswoman for National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert refused to say whether the cap would be reconsidered.
Instead, she pointed to an ongoing review of the scheme, which is trying to find ways to cut wait times and reduce red tape.