Portfolio overview

The Social Services portfolio is responsible for achieving the Australian Government’s social policy outcomes and delivering social security priorities through policy advice, program administration and research.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) is the lead entity in the portfolio and has four core areas of responsibility: social security, families and communities, disability and carers, and housing. Further information on the department’s responsibilities can be obtained from its website at dss.gov.au.

In addition to DSS, the portfolio also includes Australian Hearing Services, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Launch Transition Agency (the National Disability Insurance Agency), the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. The entities within the Social Services portfolio administer services and programs with other government entities, non-government organisations, program participants and other stakeholders. The portfolio includes Services Australia — audit considerations for this entity are discussed separately.

In the 2021–22 Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS) for the Social Services portfolio — excluding Services Australia— the aggregated budgeted expenses for 2021–22 total $175.74 billion. The PBS contain budgets for those entities in the general government sector (GGS) that receive appropriations directly or indirectly through the annual appropriation acts.

The level of budgeted departmental and administered expenses, and the average staffing level for entities in the GGS within this portfolio, are shown in Figure 1. DSS represents the largest proportion of the portfolio’s expenses, and administered expenses are the most material component, representing 84 per cent of the portfolio’s expenses.

Figure 1: Social Services portfolio — total expenses and average staffing level by entity

Note: Excludes Services Australia.

Source: ANAO analysis of 2021–22 PBS.

Audit focus

In determining the 2021–22 audit work program, ANAO considers prior-year audit and other review findings and what these indicate about portfolio risks and areas for improvement, and emerging risks from new investments, reforms or changes in the operating environment. As a lead entity coordinating access to resources and enabling legislation for the government’s COVID-19 measures to support individuals and households, the Department of Social Services, along with other portfolio entities, have heightened risks. These risks include compliance management and the business impacts of changing risk tolerance levels during a pandemic, the accuracy and timeliness of payment arrangements, and ensuring system availability and response during periods of peak demand.

Additional business-as-usual strategic risks predominantly relate to governance, service delivery and grants administration.


As a frontline service response and policy development portfolio for both the COVID-19 pandemic response and bushfire recovery assistance, risk management is critical in responding rapidly to implement new policy measures and meet increased demand for services. If risk tolerances change during an emergency response period, these need to be documented, implemented consistently, and the broader impacts considered.

DSS is responsible for the delivery of diverse individual programs and payments with portfolio entities and third-party providers. This requires active monitoring and effective oversight of the delivery of services to ensure they are meeting the agreed requirements and expectations. Active management of shared service delivery risks is integral to mitigating risks to achieving broader program and policy objectives. It is important that DSS gain adequate assurance over the delivery of accurate and timely services and the integrity of information provided by third parties.

DSS information technology functions and staff transferred to Services Australia when it was established as an executive agency in February 2020. New risks are introduced by reliance on Services Australia’s information technology systems and IT control environment, which forms a significant component of the overall integrity and reliability of financial transactions.

Achieving outcomes for policy objectives and programs requires DSS to pay additional attention to both implementation planning and the monitoring and reporting of performance. Audits have highlighted that inadequate planning can lead to disconnects between short-term activities and long-term goals, and problems with the performance measures established. DSS must also actively collect, use and report performance information and evaluations to refine the delivery of programs and demonstrate the achievement of policy objectives.

Service delivery

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) manages a significant volume of taxpayer funding through payments to individuals and private sector providers, and has to manage compliance risks to reduce the instance of fraud, ensure supports approved in participant plans are reasonable and necessary, and payments are accurate and sustainable. NDIA is also implementing new regulation of the disability services market to improve national consistency and promote safety and quality. As a corporate Commonwealth entity, the NDIA is not subject to all the rules and guidelines related to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. The NDIA is operating at full scale in a mature market and is seeking to improve the delivery of the scheme to participants, whilst considering its long-term financial sustainability.

Grants administration

In providing shared-services arrangements to deliver grant administration services on behalf of Commonwealth entities, DSS needs to manage shared risks as part of its responsibilities to manage the Community Grants Hub. This includes: effectively partnering with other Commonwealth entities to support their policy outcomes; engaging with third parties; ensuring fit-for-purpose administration of diverse grant programs; and developing adequate assurance arrangements.


Financial statements and other audit engagements


Entities within the Social Services portfolio, and the risk profile of each entity, are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Social Services portfolio entities and risk profile


Type of entity

Risk of material misstatement

Number of higher risks

Number of moderate risks

Financial Statements - Material entities 

Department of Social Services





Australian Hearing Services





National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency





Financial Statements - Non-material entities 

Australian Institute of Family Studies





NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission



Other audit engagements (including Auditor-General Act 1997 section 15 engagements)

Department of Social Services performance statements audit


Material entities

Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services (DSS) is responsible for social security, families and communities, disability and carers, and housing. DSS works in partnership with other government and non-government organisations on a range of policies, programs and services focused on improving the wellbeing of people and families in Australia.

DSS’s total budgeted expenses for 2021–22 are just under $147.7 billion, with 87 per cent of these expenses attributable to personal benefits and supplier expenses as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Department of Social Services’ total budgeted expenses by category ($’000)


Note a: Employee benefits, subsidies, finance costs, and depreciation and amortisation

Source: ANAO analysis of 2021–22 PBS.

Financial statements audit

There are three key risks for DSS’s 2020–21 financial statements that the ANAO has highlighted for specific audit coverage, all of which the ANAO considers potential key audit matters (KAMs).

  • The high volume and varying complexity of personal benefit payments processed by Services Australia on complex IT systems, and the reliance on the correct disclosure of personal circumstance information by a large number of recipients across diverse social economic groups. In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes in DSS’s compliance program, including the implementation of stimulus measures where eligibility criteria have been varied, which increases the risks associated with accuracy of personal benefit expenses. (KAM – Accuracy and occurrence of personal benefit expenses)
  • The significant judgements and assumptions made in the estimation models for the valuation of personal benefit provisions and receivables, the accuracy and completeness of the source data used by the actuary in developing the estimation of the provisions and receivables, and the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the actuarial valuations. (KAM – Valuation of personal benefit provisions and personal benefit receivables)
  • The large number of grant programs with differing legislative and policy requirements, which makes the management of grant processes complex. (KAM – Accuracy and occurrence of grants expenses)
Performance statements audit
  • The DSS audit of the 2020–21 annual performance statements will be conducted as a continuation of the Minister for Finance’s August 2019 request under section 40 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 to conduct a pilot. The audit will be conducted under section 15 of the Auditor-General Act 1997.
  • Key risks for DSS’s performance statements that the ANAO has highlighted include:
    • the ANAO withdrew from the 2019–20 DSS audit in part due to the quality of the performance measures in DSS’s 2019–20 Corporate Plan; and
    • in August 2020 DSS published its 2020–21 Corporate Plan containing significantly revised performance measures, which will require timely and accurate evidence to support results for the first time, including from third parties.

Australian Hearing Services

Australian Hearing Services (Hearing Australia) is responsible for the provision of government-funded hearing services through a national network of hearing centres to eligible clients under the Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program. Hearing Australia is managed by a board of directors appointed by the Minister for Government Services and is constituted under the Australian Hearing Services Act 1991.

Hearing Australia’s total actual expenses for 2019–20 were just under $243 million, with 52 per cent of these expenses attributable to employee expenses, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Australian Hearing Services’ total actual expenses by category ($’000)


Source: ANAO analysis of Australian Hearing Services’ 2019–20 annual report.

There is one key risk for Hearing Australia’s 2020–21 financial statements.

  • The revenue recognition from contracts with customers due to complexity and the application of significant judgement by management in determining these balances.

National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency (NDIA) was established under the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013. The NDIA is responsible for delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS is designed to: provide individual control and choice in the delivery of reasonable and necessary care and support; improve the independence, social and economic participation of eligible people with disability, their families and carers; and provide associated referral services and activities.

The NDIA’s total budgeted expenses for 2021–22 are $27.97 billion, with 95 per cent of these expenses attributable to participant plan expenses, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency’s total budgeted expenses by category ($’000)


Source: ANAO analysis of 2021–22 PBS.

There are three key risks for the NDIA’s 2020–21 financial statements, all of which the ANAO considers potential key audit matters (KAMs).

  • The volume and complexity of payments made to participants and providers, which continues to be in a high-growth phase as the NDIA approaches full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is coupled with reliance on a developing assurance framework and associated compliance program to support the accuracy and integrity of claims made by participants and service providers. (KAM – Accuracy and occurrence of participant plan expenses)
  • The significant judgement and assumptions required in the actuarial estimate of outstanding claims at year-end. (KAM – Valuation of participant plan provisions)
  • The reliance on data from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and complexities around the valuation and accounting for in-kind contributions provided by the Commonwealth or state and territory governments directly to organisations providing disability services under existing funding relationships, where a proportion of the funding has been allocated to be made available to NDIS participants. The allocation of cash versus in-kind contributions is outlined in the respective state and territory bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth. (KAM – Completeness, occurrence and accuracy of in-kind revenue and expenses)

Potential audits

In progress audits

Performance audit (Open for contribution)
Performance audit (Report preparation)
Performance audit (Report preparation)