London council criticised for significant delays when completing plans for children with Special Educational Needs

Families of children with Special Educational Needs in Hackney who are unhappy with the time the council took to complete their Education Health and Care Plans, could have their complaints reconsidered by the council after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman identified significant faults in the council’s handling of two separate cases.

London Borough of Hackney has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for the lengthy delays in providing support for two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Councils should normally take no longer than 20 weeks to complete an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan for children with SEN, but in the first case, a boy with autism only received his plan after 69 weeks. And in the second, there was a 48-week delay in providing a plan for a young boy with Down’s syndrome.

In both cases the boys’ families have had to make significant efforts to ensure the council provides the services they are entitled to.

The Ombudsman has criticised the council for a number of faults, including the way it considered whether the boys should be assessed when notified they may have SEN. The Ombudsman also criticised the council’s failure to adhere to statutory timescales for completing EHC Plans, and restricting access to services by using waiting lists for funding. It has recommended the council consider other families’ complaints where there have been delays in the process.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Some families have to go well beyond the call of duty to confirm the type of support their children should receive, and I’m sorry to say this has happened in both these cases and in others we are investigating.

“We issued a special report about the problems faced by parents battling the SEN system in 2017. At the time, we said when councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support.

“I now encourage the council to accept the recommendations in my report to review its services and provide reassurance to families across Hackney their cases will be dealt with swiftly and in accordance with law and guidance.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In the first case, the council has been asked to apologise to the family and reimburse them £20,948.47 for the educational provision they paid for, and which the council eventually agreed was suitable, while they were waiting for it to complete the boy’s plan. 

It should also pay the family £1,000 for the distress caused by the avoidable delays and its failures in the review and complaints process, and a further £500 for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint with the council.

In the second case, the council should apologise to the family and pay them £3,000 to be used for the boy’s educational benefit, £1,000 to acknowledge the significant distress caused to the family and £150 in recognition of the time and trouble caused in pursuing this complaint.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. The Ombudsman has recommended the council:

  • reviews its procedures when it receives a notification that a child in its area may have SEN, to ensure it consults parents and other professionals and reaches a decision on whether to assess within six weeks;
  • explains, on its website and in written guidance, how requests for a statutory assessment will be dealt with in accordance with the legislation and SEN Code of Practice;
  • makes available its standard form for making requests for a statutory assessment on its website;
  • ensures SEN panels keep proper records of their meetings, provide clear reasons for their decisions and record the information and reports they have considered;
  • offers training to its complaint team about the statutory timescales for EHC assessments and how it should remedy avoidable delays in its EHC Plan process, taking into account the findings made in this report;
  • reviews and streamlines its processes to meet the 20-week timescale to finalise EHC plans;
  • reviews the arrangements for the new early years inclusion fund; and
  • writes to the parents of all children who were placed on a waiting list for funding for special educational provision to explain the faults identified by the investigation and provide them with the same remedy.

If other parents, because of these reports, complain to the council about delays in their child’s EHC Plan process, the council should be willing to consider these in light of the findings in these cases.

Article date: 23 May 2019

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