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Establishing a sustainable National Relay Service

The Turnbull Government will take steps to ensure the sustainability of the National Relay Service (NRS), an important communications safety net for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.

Since the current NRS contact was introduced in 2012-13, rapid developments in technology have increased the range and take-up of mainstream communications options for users with unique needs.

Drawing on community feedback to the consultation paper Communications accessibility: 2016 and beyond, the Government has released an implementation plan proposing changes to the NRS which will ensure that the service continues to be funded at the same level as the existing funding allocation, and that all existing communications options remain available to NRS users under the current contracts.

The consultation paper attracted more than 30 submissions from a variety of individuals and organisations with an interest in the NRS.

Three key steps were announced as part of the implementation plan:

First, the NRS outreach function will be rebalanced. Key outreach functions will continue to be delivered, including the helpdesk and online presence, which are available to users and potential users of the NRS. The online presence will shift in focus to educate users about the wide variety of easily-accessible communication options available to people with unique needs, such as online and app-based message services.

Second, to provide improved data insights into NRS usage and user requirements, a registration process will be introduced. This process will see users provide a limited set of personal information in accordance with Australian Privacy Principles. This will allow a more comprehensive analysis of the needs of NRS users and will assist the Government in ensuring appropriate arrangements remain in place, now and into the future.

Third, the Government will go to tender for the continued provision of the NRS, ensuring that the existing total annual funding allocation of $22 million (including GST) remains in place. This process is expected to commence in the near future.

There have been no changes to the wide range of call options currently available to users of the National Relay Service under the existing contract with the Australian Government, including internet relay, captioned relay, video relay, SMS relay, and more.

These recommendations will be implemented through changes to the existing NRS agreements and the upcoming tender process, with changes to the outreach service expected to take full effect following 1 July 2017.

In recent years, usage of some NRS services has increased substantially, putting pressure on the service overall. Usage minutes for captioned telephony, for example, increased by more than 347 per cent between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The NRS annual funding allocation of $22 million was set in 2012, and currently includes funding for both the relay service ($18 million) and the outreach program ($4 million).

Last financial year, increases in usage led to the total cost of delivering the NRS to grow to $26.3 million, with the relay service component costing $22.1 million – more than $4 million above the funding allocation. This represents an increase of nearly 22 per cent over the delivery costs in the previous financial year.

The implementation plan is available at www.communications.gov.au/documents/communications-accessibility-2016-and-beyond-consultation-outcomes-implementation-plan