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London borough faces judicial review threat over outsourcing of SEND services

A group of parents and carers have threatened Sutton Council with a judicial review challenge over the 2016 outsourcing of its statutory services for special educational needs and disabilities.

The local authority set up a limited company, Cognus, four years ago to provide SEND services.

On its Crowd Justice fundraising page Sutton ECHP Crisis Group said: “As this is a limited company it is driven by profit. Since then, large numbers of families with children with SEND have been denied the help that they need and been forced to go to tribunal to get this. By way of example in 2018 Sutton had the highest rejection rate in the country for Education, Health and Care needs assessments at over 60% (with a national average of 23%) and over 700 children have been rejected for help.  

“Setting up a company to provide such a sensitive statutory service was always going to be a risk and one which our group could never understand. Firstly from a local point of view because of the susceptibility of decisions regarding vulnerable children being compromised for profit and secondly because we were unclear how the government could let such a company be set up in the first place.”

The group said it was looking to investigate whether it could bring a judicial review challenge over the outsourcing.

It said any claim it brings may include a challenge that the local authority’s relationship with Cognus Ltd breaches the Localism Act 2010, along with potentially other legal duties.

“The aim is that our children’s statutory services are brought back in house so that this company can no longer be used as buffer by the local authority and accountability is restored,” Sutton ECHP Crisis Group said.

The group is looking to raise an initial £2,600 to begin the initial work needed, which will be undertaken by law firm Rook Irwin Sweeney LLP and barrister Steve Broach of 39 Essex Chambers.

Sutton EHCP Crisis Group said: “If successful, this proposed claim could have positive lifelong effects on the future of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Sutton that at the moment are not getting the services to which they should be entitled. It could also establish that other local authorities cannot outsource these services to profit-making companies.”

A spokesperson for Sutton Council said: "Following a recent Ofsted and CQC endorsement of the local area, we would encourage all those concerned to be focused on supporting the continued improvement of our local services rather than looking for an opportunity to challenge a decision taken some four years ago. We are continuing to build on these improvements with schools, setting and partners to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and families in Sutton.”


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