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Norfolk County Council (21 015 821)

Category : Education > Special educational needs

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 13 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council delayed in arranging an Educational Psychologist report for his son’s Education, Health and Care plan assessment. The Council was at fault for a significant delay which caused Mr X avoidable frustration. The Council has already apologised to Mr X but will also pay him £200 in recognition of the injustice the delay caused.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council delayed in arranging an Educational Psychologist report for his son’s Education, Health and Care plan assessment. He says this meant his son was disadvantaged because he did not receive the provision he needed to meet his special educational needs. He also says the delay caused him avoidable frustration, anxiety and stress.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with an organisation’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • all the information Mr X provided and discussed the complaint with him;
    • the Council’s response to Mr X’s complaint and comments on the complaint; and
    • relevant law and guidance and the Ombudsman's guidance on remedies.
  2. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I considered their comments before making a final decision

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What I found

Relevant law and guidance

  1. A child with special educational needs (SEN) may have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. This sets out the child’s needs and what arrangements should be made to meet them. In order to have an EHC plan, a child must first have an assessment.
  2. Statutory guidance ‘Special educational needs and disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years’ sets out the process for carrying out EHC assessments and producing EHC Plans. The guidance is based on the Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEN Regulations 2014.
  3. As part of the assessment councils must gather advice from relevant professionals (SEND Regulation 6(1)). This includes psychological advice and information from an Educational Psychologist. Those consulted have a maximum of six weeks to provide the advice.

What happened

  1. Mr X requested an EHC plan for his son, Z, in early 2021. Following mediation, the Council agreed to assess Z for a plan in August 2021. It requested an Educational Psychologist assessment in mid-August 2021 but it did not take place until early April 2022. The Council received the advice in late April and decided not to issue Z an EHC plan.
  2. In response to Mr X’s complaint, the Council apologised for the delay in getting the Educational Psychologist assessment. It explained requests for assessments had increased significantly, there was shortage of Educational Psychologists and the COVID-19 pandemic had increased backlogs. This meant assessments were taking longer than they should. The Council explained it was working to reduce the delays. It told me this included setting up a partnership with a university to train its own Educational Psychologists.

Findings

  1. The Council is responsible for ensuring ECH assessments are completed within the relevant timescales. This includes the six week period for educational psychology advice. There was eight and a half months between the Council requesting the Educational Psychologist assessment and receiving the advice. This was a delay of seven months.
  2. The Ombudsman can make findings of fault where there is a failure to provide a service regardless of the reasons for that service failure. While I accept there are justifiable reasons why the Educational Psychologist report took longer than six weeks, the delay was fault. I am pleased to see the Council is making efforts to resolve the issue, although this will take some time.
  3. Because the Council decided not to issue Z an EHC plan, there is no injustice to Z because of the delays. However, the delays have caused Mr X frustration. The Council has already apologised, but I consider further remedy is appropriate given the length of delay.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of my final decision the Council will pay Mr X £200 in recognition of the frustration caused by the delay in obtaining the Educational Psychologist advice.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have found fault leading to personal injustice. I have recommended action to remedy that injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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