The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has upheld five complaints regarding Essex County Council’s handling of provisions for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The complaints against the council range from its failure to implement Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans effectively, to delays in assessing children entitled to receive specialist support or seeing EHC plans through to completion.
Although the county council cited national shortage issues with being able to allocate specialist staff in order to carry out its duties and fulfil provisions, which included acquiring teaching assistants, educational psychologists and occupational therapists as requested, the LGSCO still found the authority to be at fault.
The ombudsman determined that the delays to communication with complainants, which the council was responsible for, had caused “distress, frustration and uncertainty” in each of the five cases which saw complaints upheld.
In four cases, the agreed action detailed by the ombudsman included the council making remedial payments ranging from £250 to £600 to complainants for the “continued injustice” experienced by the children and families affected.
In the cases upheld by the LGSCO, complaints made were subject to what were described as “significant delays”, with wait times for responses often reaching double that of Essex County Council’s standard deadlines.
In December 2022 the school attended by the son of a complainant referred to as Mrs X had first approached the council in order to have her son, Y, assessed for an EHC plan. In line with statutory guidance, the council should have issued Y’s final EHC plan by late April 2023, but did not do so until mid-October.
The ombudsman said: “This fault caused Mrs X an injustice. It not only delayed her right to appeal the school but left her with avoidable uncertainty, over a long period, about what school her son might go to.
“The delays and uncertainty have also left her with avoidable distress and concern about the impact this has had on Y’s development and social mixing.”
In another case, a child referred to as D, whose father Mr X had complained to the LGSCO regarding the council’s failure to fulfil the provisions detailed in his daughter’s EHC plan, had waited over four months to receive a laptop in what should have been a “straightforward” delivery of agreed entitlements.
The ombudsman recognised that this, along with the council failing to ensure D was provided with a teaching assistant, “has impacted on her education… and has also had a damaging effect on her well-being”.
In a statement provided to LDRS, a spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases, however, we have acknowledged and accepted the findings of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in these cases and the recommendations contained within the reports.
“We are committed to ensuring that every child in the county has the support they need to meet their educational potential, and that they receive all the necessary support and resources to meet any special educational needs or disabilities.”