How to become an independent support worker

In 2024 demand for independent support workers is on the rise, with an anticipated 23.2 per cent projected job growth from 2021 to 2026. Are you thinking about becoming an independent support worker?

Helping those in need can be a very rewarding career path, but it is not without its challenges. Sometimes tricky, sometimes emotional, and occasionally lonely, a career in independent support work requires resilience, commitment, and determination.

To gauge whether or not you are ready to pursue a career as an independent disability support worker, you may benefit from ticking off a few of the important NDIS aid requirements for independent support workers, including your business insurance*. Continue reading to learn all about becoming an independent support worker, including the required qualifications, experience, how to reduce your risk, mandatory checks, finding clients, setting your rates, and more.

1. Qualifications and experience

To become a NDIS carer it is recommended that independent disability support workers have a relevant formal qualification. This can be a Certificate III in Individual Support (Disability), or a Certificate IV in Disability. To get started as an independent support worker a Certificate III in any of the following areas is recommended:

  • Individual support;
  • Community services;
  • Youth work;
  • Mental health;
  • Health services assistance; or
  • Allied health assistance.

Whichever one (or more) of these support worker qualifications you choose to pursue, doing so will help you to better understand the role of an independent support worker and make it easier to both attract clients, or to get a job with an established support worker organisation.

It’s worth noting that spending one to two years with an employer will give you a good foundation in the industry. From there you may consider going out on your own. You will also be required to complete the NDIS Orientation Modules and have a NDIS Worker Screening Check.

2. How motivated are you?

While not a legal NDIS aid requirement, having a healthy serving of motivation and determination will help you excel in your independent support worker career.
It’s important to think about your motivations for pursuing an independent support worker career. It’s also important to be truly honest with yourself about whether or not being self-employed is the right fit for you.

To help you determine if you truly do have the motivation for a career as an independent support worker, how would you answer the following questions:

  • Do you have the business skills and the personal discipline to succeed as a self-employed individual managing everything yourself – including marketing, invoicing, paying yourself, setting up business systems, and tax obligations, to name a few?
  • Are you comfortable working without support or supervision?
  • If you were previously a paid employee, would you be okay with an inconsistent income from week to week – at least for the short term?
  • Do you understand the ins and outs of NDIS Pricing Arrangements?
  • Do you understand the NDIS Code of Conduct, reporting obligations, and the Regulated Restrictive Practices Guide?
  • Do you have enough paid experience to support your clients without the backing of support worker organisation?

3. Initial set up requirements

While you have the support worker qualifications and the experience to become an independent support worker, how much do you know about business ownership? First cab off the rank is deciding on your business structure. Often independent support workers start with a sole trader structure; in time you may move to a company structure as your business evolves.

4. Getting your ABN

Getting an ABN is easy and you can do so online yourself without the need for a third party to get involved. Just jump onto the Australian Business Register website. If you wish to register and use a business name you will be required to submit an application through the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) website.

5. Getting your business insurance sorted

Just like many businesses in Australia, independent support workers can benefit from reducing their exposure to risk while on the job. The NDIS Terms of Business for Registered Providers requires that support workers hold an adequate level of Public Liability insurance and Professional Indemnity insurance.

These business insurance products provide protection for you while you help your clients. Whether you a sole trader, contractor, or carer, you could be exposed to risks which may result in a Professional Indemnity or Public Liability claim against you.

6. Systems and policies

Once you become an NDIS carer and have some on the job experience to your name, you may want to expand your business, perhaps by hiring staff or contractors, or becoming an NDIS Registered Provider. If you are looking to become an NDIS Registered Provider (now, or sometime in the future), now may be a good time to set up your policies, procedures, and systems for when you decide to transition to NDIS Registered Provider status.

At a minimum, you will require a service level agreement (SLA) and a consent form for new clients. As your business grows you may also consider investing in a client management system (CMS) to make managing your business easier. You can also create your own version of a CMS in Microsoft Excel.

7. Finding clients

With all the above taken care of, you are now ready to start taking on independent support worker clients. But just because you’ve hung out your shingle as an independent support worker, that doesn’t necessarily mean that clients will start queueing up to take advantage of your services.

Fair warning – your first few months may be a little slow, but don’t let that bring you down. As mentioned at the start of this blog, there is plenty of independent support work to go around.

While it may not be your forte, marketing can help to raise awareness about your independent support work services, which in turn can help increase your engagement and lead you to connecting with those in need of a helping hand from an independent support worker. To get started with your marketing, you may consider these marketing activities:

  • Branding and marketing is much easier with a catchy business name and company logo, so create them.
  • Set up social media profiles and like/follow NDIS independent support worker groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Look at what similar independent support workers are doing to get new clients; learn from their approach and adapt it to work for your business.
  • Create a company website – these days, template website designs make it easy for anyone to create a great and informative website without costing the bank. You may also contract someone to build a custom website for you.
  • Create printed advertising material and send it to all the disability support coordinators in your area.

8. Setting your rates

The maximum that independent support workers can charge for their services is set out in the NDIS Price Arrangements and Limits. The limits get updated from time to time, so it can be in your interest to keep a watchful eye on them.

However, another strategy some independent support workers consider is charging less than the NDIS limits to be more competitive. If you choose to go down that road, be fair with yourself and think it through carefully before lowering your rates.

If you do choose to reduce your rates, ensure that your current rates are reflected in your Schedule of Support form with your Service Agreement. It may also be worth looking at your budget as a whole, rather than focusing on an hourly rate.

Is becoming an independent support worker worth it?

While there is no single, definitive answer to this question, independent support work can be very rewarding – after all, you are providing essential support to those who require it the most. And in the process you are providing much-needed companionship. With resilience, understanding and flexibility, you may find your calling as an independent support worker.

If you are you considering a career as an independent disability support worker, BizCover can help you get started on the right foot by making purchasing your business insurance fast and easy – the way it should be! Compare competitive Public Liability insurance and Professional Indemnity insurance quotes from leading Australian insurers online, get coverage for your business in just 10 minutes, and get back to supporting your clients.

Call us on 1300 920 875 or Get support worker insurance online.

*This information is general only and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It should not be relied upon as advice. As with any insurance, cover will be subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions contained in the policy wording. © 2023 BizCover Pty Limited, all rights reserved. ABN 68 127 707 975; AFSL 501769.

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