Special Needs at University.
By Melinda Nettleton, Principal Solicitor
Although EHCPs can continue to 25, if a young person goes to university, their EHCP ends. There is lots of fluffy information out there suggesting that it will all go swimmingly. Look very carefully when choosing a university and ask questions for example what mentoring / what 1:1 support / what study skills are there. Raise questions based on your EHC Plan, even though it is ceasing.
Student loans are available also Disabled Students’ Allowance which is non-repayable. Its availability is limited to cases where specific learning difficulties are complex. Your EHC Plan gives you reasons to argue complexity. Apply 6 months in advance for the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
Useful to know
When students start at university, they feel very grown up, and often don’t want to draw attention to their special educational needs. Be alert. Do not assume that you will be told if there is a problem.
Some universities don’t provide parents with information, because of the Data Protection Act 2018 (i.e. the student is now an adult). Get a Data Protection Act consent from your young person on the university file, and have a copy of it, so that this doesn’t happen.
Legally, the university course is a contract between the university and the student. The contractual documents are the student handbook and university policies. They should all be on the university website. Download a copy of the whole thing and keep it in a file just in case. Then you can easily prove what the information was at the time, and therefore the contractual terms.
Given the size of these university loans, pay for legal expenses insurance in your young person’s name. Make sure that the insurance includes consumer rights/ contracts. The Financial Services Ombudsman states that customers who buy legal expenses insurance cover may choose their own solicitor in exceptional circumstances (e.g. no one on their Panel who knows anything about disability discrimination/consumer rights at universities). Insurers prefer to use solicitors from their own panel if possible.
Use the University internal Complaints Procedure first. You can go on and submit a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator within 12 months of the Universities final decision on your complaint. (usually completion of Procedures letter).
Equality Act 2010
Mention your special educational needs on the UCAS form. It won’t affect acceptance on a course, however failure to mention it may mean that the Equality Act doesn’t apply. The Act applies to known disabilities. Put in your file a copy of the UCAS application form just in case it all goes pear shaped. Remember, if you are taking out student loans, and there is no degree at the end, you may want to recover the cost of the loan from the university. Be prepared.
The Equality Act covers admissions, exclusions, conferring of qualifications, teaching and access. Direct and indirect discrimination, and there is a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments. This means that there is a statutory obligation to make courses accessible under the Equality Act. You can negotiate with the university.
Claims against universities are in the County Court and must be started within six months of the last incident of disability discrimination. If you are intending to argue a continuing course of conduct, be aware this can be a difficult argument and you will need a good explanation. A County Court Judge sits on disability discrimination cases with a trained Assessor. The Assessor is there to advise the Judge, not you. Compensation awards in the County Court include injury to feelings as well as financial loss.
Consumer Rights Act 2015
The Consumer Rights Act, Section 49 requires services to be performed with reasonable care and skill. Education is a service. Further, Section 51 provides that the contract for services includes anything that is said or written to the consumer by or on behalf of the service provider (that’s why you make the file). Section 50(4) makes it plain that any subsequent change in the information is not effective unless expressly agreed.