Ombudsman reminds councils of strict timescales when issuing support plans for children with special needs

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Councils should avoid unnecessary delays when creating special educational needs support plans for children, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has warned, following an investigation into a complaint about Cornwall Council.

The report comes just months after the Ombudsman revealed it was upholding eight in 10 complaints it investigates about Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, as reported here by Special World.

In this particular case, a mother complained the council took too long to produce and amend an EHC plan for her son when he transferred from primary to mainstream secondary school. This resulted in the boy’s mother homeschooling her son, as the school had not put in place the support he needed.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found fault with the council for the way it carried out the transfer of the boy’s Statement of Special Educational Needs (Statement) to an EHC plan, in the ‘significant delay’ which occurred when completing the annual review of the boy’s plan and the severe delay in issuing the final amended EHC plan.

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

Significant delay was one of the key issues in last year’s focus report and this is a prime example of the effect this can have on families when lengthy delays occur.

Transfers from Statements to EHC plans must be carried out in a timely manner, and in line with Statutory Guidance. Councils should adhere to statutory timeframes for EHC plan processes.

I’m pleased Cornwall Council has agreed to my recommendations, and hope the changes it will now make will ensure such significant delays are avoided in future.

The delays completing the annual review and amending the EHC plan left the mother in a state of limbo for many months and postponed her appeal right to tribunal.

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 this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay her £1,000 to acknowledge the distress and frustration caused by severe delay completing the Annual Review and amending an EHC plan.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review how it audits compliance with timeframes for EHC plan processes; and ensure appropriate action is taken on casework where there is significant overrun of statutory timeframes.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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