Somerset County Council fined £2,000 after failing to provide special needs education to young boy
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
12th Oct 2022 | Local News
Somerset County Council has been fined £2,000 after it failed to provide adequate schooling for a young boy with special needs.
The boy, known as Mr Y, missed out on months of specialised schooling after the county council delayed the publication of changes to the care plan which had previously been agreed by his mother and the school he attended.
Mr Y's mother, Miss X, complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), which found in her favour and ordered the council to pay the £2,000 compensation in light of the distress it had caused her.
The council has confirmed that the money has been paid and that it had "provided guidance" for its staff to prevent this from happening again.
The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of "maladministration" and "service failure" in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.
Under UK law, every child with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) must be provided with an education, health and care plan (EHCP), which is reviewed annually by the council, the parents and the school where the child is receiving education.
Mr Y's EHCP was reviewed in May 2021, with the council informing Miss X that it intended to alter the plan.
Under national guidelines published by the Department for Education (DfE), the council must issue the amended EHCP within eight weeks of such a review.
However, in Mr Y's case, the updated plan was not released until the end of October 2021 – resulting him missing out on five months of specialist provision.
In November 2021, Miss Y lodged an appeal to the council's SEND tribunal – more than three months after she had been legally entitled to do so.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Y required a mixture of one-to-one support, work in small groups and being taught as part of a whole class – which, Miss X contended, could not be delivered under his current EHCP placement.
The ombudsman concluded the council had not issued Mr Y's EHCP on time, had allowed Mr Y to miss several months of schooling, and had failed to work with Miss X to allow her to make her appeal in a timely fashion.
The investigation also found that Mr Y had missed out on planned sessions with an occupational therapist during an earlier stage of his EHCP, and that Miss X was "not able to participate in the annual review properly" due to a fault in the council's procedures.
To remedy the "outstanding justice" of these faults, the ombudsman ordered the council to pay Miss X a total of £2,000 – £1,300 for the delays she experienced in her tribunal appeal, and £700 in reflection of her son's missed SEN provision.
A council spokesman said: "We have accepted the ruling from the LGSCO and apologise to the family involved.
"We confirm that all actions have been completed, including reminding officers of the importance of the statutory time-scales relating to Education, Health and Care plans.
"We have made significant improvements in our EHCP processes and we are committed to continued improvements."