Council ordered to pay £3k compensation after failing autistic child

There were ‘unacceptable delays’ in assessng the child’s needs.
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The family of an autistic child is set to be paid £1k and receive an apology from Sefton Council after “unacceptable delays” in assessing the child’s needs.

The payout is in addition to £2k already offered to the family by the local authority afer failing to provide appropriate levels of special educational needs provision to the family.

The ruling follows a complaint submitted on behalf of the family to the Local Government Ombudsman about the way the child, known as Child Z, was treated by Sefton Council, alleging it failed to deliver specialist therapies listed in an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

The complaint also alleged that there had been repeated delays in having the child’s EHCP reviewed over several years, including most recently in 2021 when this was only completed after the family threatened legal action – according to a report recently released by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

After investigating, the complaint was upheld by the LGO in a ruling which also stated that Sefton Council needed to “make improvements to its service to ensure it complies with SEN statutory timescales and requirements.”

The child, who has autism and a sensory processing disorder, had been assessed and provided with an EHCP in 2018. As part of that plan, the child was entitled to occupational therapy and special and language support, which was commissioned by the council.

According to the LGO decision notice, the child’s speech and language therapy provider claimed that in early 2019 the family had agreed to reduce the amount of support the child received, something the family “strongly refutes.”

A couple of months later, the council, school and family met to complete an annual review, a copy of which “does not appear” to have been sent to the family, nor was a finalised EHCP issued for that year.

The provider said that by July 2019, the family had once again agreed to a reduction in provision, which the child’s mother again “strongly refutes.”

A further review of the child’s EHCP was carried out during the pandemic in June 2020, when the child was not at school due to lockdown.

By April 2021, the council “appears to have started another annual review” according to the LGO. When this was not received by the family, they wrote to the council in October 2021 threatening legal action, shortly after which the EHCP was received and the family started an appeal.

After the appeal process had been completed in 2022, the child’s EHCP was amended with a decision made for an alternative school placement where according to the LGO report the child is now “thriving.”

The LGO said the council was at fault in not providing the family with a copy of the amended EHCP in 2019, meaning they were “not given access to their appeal rights” or able to challenge the level of provision offered.

The 2020 review was deemed to be “late” with a “further avoidable delay” in 2021 which led to the family’s appeal rights to be “unduly delayed” and caused “considerable frustration”.

The LGO said that the council had provided a “suitable” remedy over the lack of SEN provision after a complaint by the family by offering £2000 to compensate for their costs in sourcing private provision and in “recognition of the time and trouble they had experienced in raising their concerns.”

A further element to the complaint involved an allegation that the council had failed to obtain professional assesments. While the council said they were in the process of organising these when notified by the family they were sourcing their own, the LGO found this not to be the case.

According to the LGO the council said it should not have to bear the coss of the assessment because the family were obtaining them for purposes of appeal, although the LGO found this also not to be the case as the family hadn’t actually received the plan which they later appealed by the time the assesmsents were carried out.

The report notes, however: “I am equally not persuaded Child Z and their parents suffered injustice as a direct result of the Council’s actions” stating this was because the reports were not shared with the council until it was too late for them to be included in the review for that year – although they were later factored into an amended plan that was produced following appeal.

Recommending the council pay an additional £1k to the family “in recognition of the uncertainty and distress caused by not completing EHCP annual reviews within statutory timescales” and issuing an apology, the report also said the council had agreed to take action to improve its overall service within three months of the decision.

Specially, the council agreed to tell the LGO how it would ensure reviews were held in accordance with statutory guidelines and timescales in future, as well as implement procedures to monitor hSEN provision provided by schools and commissioned providers.

It was also agreed the council would provide guidance to staff so “ensure that any agreeded provisions are clearly reflected within EHCPs” with amended plans issued where appropriate.

Sefton Council was contacted for comment. A spokesperson said: “The local authority is unable to comment on indiviudal causes however it has accepted the findings of the Ombudsman.”

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