A recent report published by the BBC identified that thousands of children in England with special educational needs are being failed by Local Authorities because they are having to wait far too long for an EHC Plan. From 152 Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the BBC to various Local Authorities, 26,505 applications were found to have taken longer than the statutory timescale of 20 weeks to produce a Final EHC Plan. Staggeringly, the longest wait was recorded at 1,023 days (nearly 3 years) in Suffolk and 1,014 days in Tower Hamlets.
The timescale is set out in The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (Regulations 3 to 10). It is statutory, not a guideline, nor altered by any Local Authority internal policy. Local Authorities must adhere to the timetable with only limited exceptions permitted. Once the LA have received a request for an EHC Needs Assessment, they have 6 weeks to decide whether or not to conduct one.
If the LA agree to conduct a statutory assessment, they will contact various bodies to request their advice (including education, medical, psychological, social care and any other advice the LA deems appropriate) as well as consulting with parents. The requested information must be supplied within 6 weeks. If, at the end of the advice gathering exercise, the LA decides not to issue an EHC Plan, parents must be notified of the LA’s refusal as soon as practicable and within a maximum of 16 weeks from receipt of the request for the statutory assessment. Again, the LA must notify parents of their decision and convey a right of appeal. If the LA decides an EHC Plan is necessary, a draft EHC Plan has to be provided allowing at least 15 days before the end of the 20 week period to give parents sufficient time to consider and comment on the draft EHC Plan before it should be finalised.
By the end of the 20 week period, parents should have received a Final EHC Plan with a right of appeal.
Given the timescale is statutory and the Regulations are clear as to the timescales involved, why are so many Local Authorities still failing to comply? The Local Government Ombudsman has recently upheld a number of complaints concerning Councils exceeding the statutory timescale.
In two complaints upheld against Norfolk County Council, Norfolk LA agreed to pay financial compensation to the family for the delay, inconvenience and injustice, as well as conducting a review of the Council’s processes to ensure it produces EHC Plans within the statutory timescale. With prompt and effective communication, delays should be avoided.
If you are being given the run around by your Local Authority and the statutory timescale has been exceeded, but all you are being given is one excuse after another, contact us and we will ensure your Local Authority complies with their statutory duty.