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Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (21 006 985)

Category : Education > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 14 Feb 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms M complained about disabled children’s access to the the holiday activities and food programme. The Council responded to Ms M’s concerns and agreed to work with Ms M to improve the scheme in the future. There is nothing more the Ombudsman can add by investigating the complaint further.

The complaint

  1. Ms M’s daughter, G, is disabled. Ms M complained the additional summer activities for children organised through the holiday activities and food programme in response to the pandemic were not accessible to disabled children. Ms M thinks this is unfair. She says one provider did not reply to her enquiries, and another required an unreasonable amount of paperwork for her daughter to register.
  2. Ms M says the same happened last year. She believes disabled children should have equal access to the additional activities.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide we could not add to any previous investigation by the Council. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • information provided by Ms M;
    • information provided by the Council, including its response to Ms M’s complaint.
  2. I invited Ms M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Councils provide a wide range of leisure activities for children of all ages. Leisure activities specifically for children with special educational needs (SEN) are listed in the Local Offer. Doncaster provided 161 places exclusively for disabled children in 2021.
  2. The holiday activities and food programme was set up by the Government in 2018. The scheme is funded by the Government and administered by councils. The eligibility criteria are set by the Government.
  3. The aim is to provide healthy food and enriching activities for disadvantaged schoolchildren during the school holidays. The programme is for children who receive benefits-related free school meals, although children who are not eligible can pay to attend.
  4. In Doncaster, the Council coordinates the programme. It is responsible for planning, awarding funding, supporting providers and promoting the programme. It does not deliver provision itself.
  5. Councils received additional funding from the Government in 2021 in response to the pandemic to offer more activities in the school holidays. It is these activities Ms M complains about.
  6. Ms M submitted an online complaint about the programme on 21 July 2021. She complained children with additional needs were not able to participate.
  7. The Council responded by letter on 29 July 2021. The Council said there was an officer with expertise in special education needs on the evaluation panel that selected providers, and it expected organisations delivering the programme to make their provision accessible to disabled children. However, the Council explained it had not received any applications for funding from providers who specialise in special educational needs. The Council provided details of activities specifically for disabled children and invited Ms M to discuss her concerns by telephone.
  8. Ms M was unhappy with the Council’s response and asked the Council to escalate her complaint to the next stage of the complaints process. She said she received the same response last year when the Council promised to make improvements. She said she had contacted two providers of the holiday activities and food programme. One had sent her 12 forms to complete, the other had not replied. Ms M said her daughter was eligible for the programme, but time was running out. She wanted her daughter to access the programme rather than provision in the local offer for which there was a charge.
  9. The Council responded at the second stage of its complaints process by letter dated 9 August 2021. The Council said the short timescale for expanding the holiday activities and food programme had meant the provision was not in place for the start of the school holidays. It offered Ms M support completing the paperwork and offered to contact the provider that had not responded to her enquiry. The Council said it would ‘work with activity providers to build on the current offer to ensure it becomes more inclusive.’
  10. Dissatisfied with the Council’s response, Ms M complained to the Ombudsman on the morning of 11 August 2021. She says she is making her complaint in the interests of all parents with disabled children.
  11. A senior council officer spoke to Ms M later the same day. An internal email he sent following their conversation sets out his response to Ms M’s concerns and the action the Council will take. It says the Council will consider engaging with parents through special schools, not just the parents’ forum, and ‘stimulating the market’ by approaching SEN providers directly in the future. The email says Ms M has agreed to be involved in decision making panels.

Consideration

  1. The Council administers the holiday activities and food programme on behalf of the government. Government decisions have a significant impact on the running of the programme and are outside the Council’s control.
  2. Further, the Council does not provide the holiday activities itself. It relies on other organisations from the voluntary, community and faith sectors to formulate proposals and bid for funding.
  3. The Council recognises there are things it could do better. In particular, the Council recognised it could have been more proactive in encouraging organisations with expertise in special educational needs to bid for funding. There is, of course, no guarantee these organisations would have been willing or able to bid, or that their bids would have been successful.
  4. The Council also offered to help with the specific problems Ms M had encountered when applying for places for her daughter.
  5. Taking all of these factors into account, I am satisfied with the Council’s response to Ms M’s complaint. I consider the Council responded appropriately to the concerns Ms M raised. All providers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled children to participate, and the Council offered Ms M support to enrol G on the programme. The Council has identified ways to encourage more specialist providers to bid for funding in the future. There is nothing more the Ombudsman could add by investigating further.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation. There is nothing more the Ombudsman can add by investigating further.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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