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Council missed multiple deadlines for reviewing Education, Health and Care plan, Ombudsman finds

Poor administration of a teenager's Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) by Staffordshire Council left her college unable to support her properly, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The girl, who has autism spectrum disorder and physical disabilities, moved to a new college from her special school three years ago. However, because the council had not finalised her EHCP by then, the college had out-of-date information about her support needs and how it could meet them. Instead of being available before her transition to college, her new plan was not finalised until May 2021.

Delay in providing the girl with an up-to-date EHCP had also occurred during previous reviews, the probe found.

EHCPs should be reviewed every year, but the girl's review for 2017 was made 32 weeks late – it should have made a decision by March 2018 and this was not made till October, the Ombudsman said.

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A final decision for the following year was not issued because the council decided instead to review the girl's provision when she moved to her new college.

The frequent delays meant the girl's family lost the opportunity to appeal the contents of the plans to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal (SENDIST).

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said that without the opportunity to appeal the council's plans, the family have been "left with the uncertainty that their daughter might have been able to receive extra support had an appeal gone their way".

"They missed the chance, over several years, to ask the council to reinstate the Occupational Therapy review into the plan."

Mr King added: "The mother says a large part of her daughter's worsening health is due to the lack of therapies, and, while I cannot say how much this and other circumstances experienced by the family has contributed, it must have caused them stress and frustration.

"I am pleased the council has agreed to my recommendations to put things right for the family, and the wider changes the council has put in place following a critical Ofsted review during this period should remedy the systemic issued raised by this complaint."

The Ombudsman recommended that Staffordshire apologise to the girl and her mother, and pay them £750 each for the uncertainty, missed opportunities, stress and frustration the delays and missed decisions led to.

Staffordshire should also pay the mother £300 for her time and trouble in repeatedly having to raise the issues and refund her £450 for the costs of the occupational therapy report she commissioned.

Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Education and SEND, said the council apologised for the amount of time it took for the case to be resolved.

Cllr Price added: "It occurred at a time when demand for Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) had risen sharply and put staff under great pressure – nevertheless, it shouldn't have taken as long as it did.

"Since this case we have made extra investment in the team handling EHCPs and appointed additional staff to help clear the backlog. Demand for EHCPs is still high, but we are in better position to be able to meet this demand. We've also reviewed our own processes to provide a better, more responsive services to the families that use it."

Adam Carey

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