Education officials at Hertfordshire County Council have agreed to pay £100 to the parent of a child with special educational needs, because of their delay in the issuing of an amended education, health and care plan (EHCP).
And – following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman – they have agreed to look at how they can improve their processes to prevent further delays.
The actions follow a complaint that was made to the Ombudsman by a parent – referred to as Mrs J.
Mrs J had complained that her son – who has autism and ADHD – was not receiving the provision at the mainstream school that had been specified in his EHCP.
And she said that an amended EHCP – following an annual review – was delayed and did not meet statutory time scales.
EHCPs are formal legal documents that identify the educational, health and social needs of a specific child or young person, up to the age of 25.
They specify the support that is required for that child or young person – and even the school a child should attend.
And there are statutory guidelines detailing the time the processes should take.
According to the Ombudsman’s report, a council must decide whether it plans to amend an EHCP within four weeks of the review – and must issue an amended plan within eight weeks.
The Ombudsman determined that the decision to amend the plan was dated May 14 – so the final plan should have been issued on July 9.
But according to the report the final amended plan was not issued until August 19 – which he says is a six-week delay.
In addition, the county council had acknowledged a delay of four weeks and four days between the plan review and the decision to amend.
So the Ombudsman determined that the overall delay was almost 11 weeks.
He reports that the council has agreed to pay Mrs J £100 because of the delay, which he said caused ‘distress, uncertainty and delayed her right of appeal to a tribunal’.
He also reported that the council had agreed to apologise to Mrs J for the delay – and a delay in providing information to her during the complaint process.
Meanwhile, it was reported that the council has agreed to look at how it can improve its processes – ensuring staff are aware of EHCP time scales and reviewing processes for complaint handling to ensure documents are available to its investigators when responding to complaints.
And the report specifies that the council will provide evidence to the Ombudsman of having completed these actions.
Mrs J also complained that her son was not receiving the provision specified in his EHCP at the school he attends.
And she complained that the council had failed to provide documents to her as part of their own complaints process.
The report said that although the boy’s school had initial concerns about meeting the provision specified in the EHCP, the council had then written to the school to address those concerns.
And the Ombudsman reported that he had seen no further evidence to suggest that the school still cannot meet the provision.
In response to the Ombudsman’s findings, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said that they had reviewed their working practices.
“We take the Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and where they find we have been at fault, we work hard to understand why it happened, how we can put it right and how we can prevent it happening again,” she said.
“Following this investigation, Hertfordshire County Council recognises and apologises for the difficulties faced by this family.
“The departments involved take all feedback seriously and have reviewed their working practises as a result.”
Meanwhile, she also pointed to the increasing demand for support and the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “The demand for SEND support continues to increase, raising challenges both nationally and here in Hertfordshire.
“In common with many local authorities, we are experiencing a high demand for specialist provision, with a 37 per cent increase in pupils with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) over the last three years, as well as the additional challenges due to Covid-19.
“We are making new investments into the SEND system and are fully committed to making sure that all children with SEND and EHCPs in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve.”