Many Australians, including those with disability, use social support services intermittently throughout their life—for example, in times of unemployment, relationship breakdown or housing crisis. Others may need longer-term support to fully participate in all facets of life.

Australia’s overarching policy approach to improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers—across specialist, mainstream and informal supports—is encompassed in the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 (DSS 2011). This page focuses on two key aspects of the broader, and interacting, system of supports—specialist disability support services and financial assistance payments that are funded, or provided, by government.

How many people have disability?

Approximately 4.3 million Australians, or 18%, have some form of disability (ABS 2016a).

Nearly 1 in 3 (32%) people with disability (1.4 million people; 5.8% of the Australian population) have severe or profound disability, meaning they sometimes or always need help with day-to-day activities related to self-care, mobility or communication.

While the number of people with disability has risen over time (from about 4.0 million in 2003), the proportion of the population affected by disability has fallen slightly (from 20% in 2003).

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) is the definitive source of disability prevalence in Australia.

In the SDAC, a person is considered to have disability if they have at least 1 of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.

The severity of disability is defined according to the degree of assistance or supervision required in 3 core activities—self-care, mobility, and communication. They are grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation.

See the ABS Website for more information on the SDAC.

Specialist support services

Not all people with disability require or use formal support, but for those who do, specialist disability support services are available to assist them to participate fully in all aspects of everyday life. These specialist services may supplement other support that a person receives, such as that provided by mainstream services, the community or informal carers. It can include:

  • assistive technology (for example, wheelchairs, hearing aids, voice-recognition software)
  • case management
  • early childhood intervention services
  • life skills development
  • specialist accommodation
  • support to live in the community (such as personal care and domestic assistance)
  • support to participate in community activities
  • respite care.

Specialist disability support services in Australia are primarily aimed at people aged under 65, but support is also available to those aged 65 and over provided they meet eligibility requirements.

In Australia currently, specialist disability support services are provided through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or under the National Disability Agreement (NDA). This is changing, with most, but not all, services provided under the NDA, and the people using them, expected to progressively transition to the NDIS as it rolls out.

Disability service provision is changing

In 2013, the NDIS was introduced in trial sites and is being progressively rolled out across Australia from 1 July 2016 (except in Western Australian where the state-wide roll out of the NDIS began on 1 July 2018). Before this, government-funded services for people with disability were largely provided under various iterations of the NDA. As it rolls out, the NDIS is expected to largely replace the provision of services under the NDA. However, some NDA service users will not be eligible to enter the NDIS (such as those aged 65 and over). Also, some specialist disability programs, such as open employment services, are not included in the NDIS and will continue to operate separately. The transition to the NDIS is expected to be completed by July 2020.

The NDIS changes how services are provided to people with disability. Under the NDIS, eligibility for the scheme is assessed against a common set of criteria. Each participant receives an individual support plan and a funding package to pay for this support. Under the NDA, eligibility requirements vary between states and territories and service providers are mostly funded to deliver places in a set number of assistance programs.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

The NDIS is designed to provide Australians with ‘permanent and significant disability’ with the ‘reasonable and necessary support’ needed to participate in everyday life. By July 2020, when the NDIS is expected to be fully implemented, it is expected to support around 475,000 people (about 460,000 of these aged under 65), at an estimated annual cost of $22 billion (NDIA 2018; PC 2017). The NDIS will support around 11% of all people with disability, and 64% of those with severe or profound disability aged under 65 (PC 2017).

At 30 June 2018, about 172,000 people were active participants in the NDIS, at a cost of $7.7 billion. The number of NDIS participants has increased each year as the NDIS progressively has rolled out across Australia (see the quarterly reports published by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) for the latest data on scheme participants).

Of active NDIS participants at 30 June 2018:

  • more than 3 in 5 (62%) were male
  • almost half (47%) were aged 18 and under
  • 5.4% were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
  • the most common primary disability groups were autism (29%), intellectual (28%) and psychosocial (7.8%) (NDIA 2018).

National Disability Agreement

In 2017–18, about 280,000 people used specialist disability support services provided under the NDA, at a cost of $6.4 billion (AIHW 2019). This is 6.5% of the estimated 4.3 million people with disability in Australia (ABS 2016a; AIHW 2019). The number of NDA service users has decreased in recent years as eligible service users progressively move to the NDIS—down from 331,000 in 2016–17 and 332,000 in 2015–16 (AIHW 2019).

Of NDA service users in 2017–18:

  • almost 3 in 5 (58%) were male
  • the average age was 37
  • 5.9% were Indigenous
  • the most common primary disability groups were psychiatric (25%), intellectual (22%) and physical (21%)
  • the most common service types used were open employment (49%) and community support (38%)
  • more than half (54% or 150,000) used services that are largely expected to move to the NDIS (Table 1 and AIHW 2018).

Table 1: NDA agencies, service type outlets and service users by service group, 2017–18

Service group


Service type outlets(b)

Service users

Accommodation support




Community support




Community access








Open employment




Supported employment




Advocacy, information, alternative forms of communication



. .

Other support



. .





. .   Not applicable

(a) An agency is usually a legal entity funded under the NDA to provide 1 or more types of services at 1 or more different locations. Agencies may provide more that 1 type of service, so components will not add to total.

(b) A service type outlet is managed by an agency and delivers a particular NDA service type, at or from a discrete location.

Source: Disability Services National Minimum Data Set (DS NMDS) 2017–18.

Financial support

People with disability may receive financial assistance to help with the activities of daily life. The Disability Support Pension (DSP) and the Mobility Allowance are two such programs that are specifically for people with disability (see glossary for descriptions of these payments; see Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment). Other more general financial support, such as to assist with study, housing or finding work, may also be available but is not included on this page.

At June 2018, around 757,000 Australians were receiving DSP (DSS 2018b). This is around one-third (35%) of people with disability aged 16–64 (ABS 2016a; DSS 2018b). The number of DSP recipients decreased in the last few years—down from 759,000 at June 2017 and 783,000 at June 2016 (DSS 2018b).

Around 32,800 people received the Mobility Allowance at June 2018—down from 45,200 at June 2017 and 60,000 at June 2016 (DSS 2018a). The Mobility Allowance is affected by the roll out of the NDIS. Current recipients assessed as eligible for the NDIS receive support for reasonable and necessary transport costs as part of their NDIS package and will no longer receive the Mobility Allowance. People not eligible for the NDIS will continue to receive the Mobility Allowance.

People with disability may also be eligible for various government concession cards, which provide access to selected goods and services at a discounted rate (DHS 2018a). DSP recipients are generally issued a Pensioner Concession Card. People who receive the Mobility Allowance but not DSP are issued a Health Care Card. State and territory governments, local governments and private businesses may provide further concessions for health, household costs, education or transport.

Financial support for children with disability is available through payments made to their parents or carers. This includes through the Child Disability Assistance Payment, available to recipients of the Carer Allowance, and Carer Payment. As at June 2018, around:

  • 178,000 children aged under 16 qualified their carer for Carer Allowance, up from 171,000 at June 2017 and 167,000 at June 2016
  • 36,200 children aged under 16 qualified their carer for Carer Payment, up from 33,900 in June 2017 and 32,100 at June 2016 (DSS 2018b).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the prevalence of disability, see ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.

For more information on participants of the NDIS, see the NDIA quarterly reports.

For the latest data on income support payments for people with disability, see

See Disability and Disability Services for more on this topic.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016a. Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: summary of findings, 2015. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2016b. Microdata: disability, ageing and carers, Australia, 2015. ABS cat. no. 4430.0.30.002. Canberra: ABS. AIHW analysis of TableBuilder data.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Life expectancy and disability in Australia: expected years living with and without disability. Cat. no. DIS 66. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019. Disability support services: services provided under the National Disability Agreement 2017–18. Bulletin no. 147. Cat. no. DIS 73. Canberra: AIHW.

DSS (Department of Social Services) 2011. National Disability Strategy 2010–2020: an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments. Canberra: DSS.DHS (Department of Human Services) 2018. Guide to Government Payments. Canberra: DHS.

DSS 2018a. Annual report 2017–18. Canberra: DSS.

DSS 2018b. DSS Payment Demographic Data. Canberra: DSS.

NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2018. National Disability Insurance Scheme—COAG Disability Reform Council Quarterly Report (30 June 2018). Canberra: NDIA.

PC (Productivity Commission) 2017. National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Costs, position paper. Canberra: PC.