Hertfordshire County Council is to pay £700 to a parent after they failed to issue an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – for 20 months.
The ‘significantly delayed’ EHCP was highlighted after the child’s mum – referred to as Mrs X – complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
And in a report just published by the Ombudsman, it has emerged that the council is to make the payment, apologise to the parent and remind staff about ‘the importance of keeping to statutory timescales’.
EHCPs can be crucial in ensuring children with special educational needs or disabilities get the support they need.
They 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.
When an EHCP is reviewed – which they are annually – the council must decide whether or not to review an ECHP within four weeks.
And where a council decided to make an amendment, it must issue an amended plan within eight weeks.
However according to the report, Mrs X attended an annual review of her child’s EHCP in May 2019. But the amended EHCP was not issued until February 2021.
The county council had said that they had experienced a significant increase in workload and that this – in addition to the request for a referral for speech and language therapy (SALT) – had caused the delay.
But Mrs X had complained that the delay had stopped her from using her right of appeal – causing ‘injustice’ to her child, who is at secondary school.
According to the Ombudsman’s report the council should have issued the EHCP within four weeks of an annual review.
And he finds that the ‘significant delay’ is likely to have caused Mrs X ‘frustration and stress’.
In his report, the Ombudsman also notes that the EHCP does not include a referral for a speech and language therapy assessment – despite the council telling Mrs X it would do so. And he says this is ‘fault’.
Following the publication of the report a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service said that they took the findings ‘very seriously’.
And she said that in response to high demand for specialist provision, they were investing in the SEND system.
“Hertfordshire County Council takes the Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and recognises and apologises for the difficulties caused to the family concerned,” she said.
“Where the Ombudsman finds 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.
“The departments involved have reviewed their working practises as a result.
“In common with many local authorities, we are experiencing a high demand for specialist SEND provision, with a substantial increase in pupils requiring Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) over the last three years.
“In recognition of these increased pressures, 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.”