Waltham Council fights campaign claim that SEND funding cut was unlawful at juducial review

Waltham Forest Council insisted campaigners have “nowhere near” enough evidence to prove that its decision to cut funding for special needs education was unlawful.

The council’s cabinet voted on March 19 to cut top-up Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) funding by 10 per cent for students in the lowest two bands of need from September 1.

Campaign group Waltham Forest SEND Crisis brought the council before a judicial review, on behalf of two children with special needs who will be affected by the cuts.

The council has long argued the decision is difficult but necessary and says students can be placed in a higher needs band if the cut makes their support inadequate.

On the first day of the hearing on July 29, the campaigner’s lawyer David Wolfe argued delays in the process to apply for more funding meant children would “inevitably” experience illegal gaps in support.

Yesterday (July 30), the council’s lawyer Peter Oldham insisted campaigners had offered no real evidence that there were delays in the SEND service.

He told the court: “We had one case where there was a delay and that was it. The evidence simply does not show that there’s a structural fault in the panel process.

“There is no evidence of intervention from concerned regulators, no other extraneous information suggesting this is a SEND service that’s failing or in danger of failing.

“The claimants have been thinking about litigating since autumn last year, they have had a very long time to get their best evidence together and that is the sum of it.”

The example of a serious delay put before the court was the case of one of the claimants, a six-year-old boy with special needs in a mainstream school, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

In a witness statement, his mother said it took “almost a year for his funding to be increased” in order to allow him to continue to receive the one-to-one support he was legally entitled to.

The council, however, contests the length of this delay, claiming it was not initially informed of the need for a review.

The council argues that many children in the lowest two bands are receiving more funding than needed and that only a minority, estimated to be around 15 per cent, will need a review.

They maintain that the decision is necessary, not only to save money and plug a £5.3 million gap in the council’s budget, but also so the funding ladder can be re-hauled entirely.

A total of 1,374 children will see their funding reduced if the change goes ahead. Councils have a legal duty to provide whatever special educational support each child needs.

A band E child’s funding would reduce by £843 in primary school and £714 in secondary school, while a band F child’s funding would reduce by £1,518 in primary school and £1,389 in secondary school.

A report presented to the cabinet in March stated no mainstream school would lose more than one per cent of its funding under the new proposed model.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter