AN INVESTIGATION has ruled that a council should pay £3,350 compensation to one family after its failings left a pupil without adequate school support for a year.

Despite this, the mother says she has been left more than £6,000 out of pocket after having to spend over £10,000 on solicitors’ fees to get the council to meet its legal obligations.

An investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found Reading Borough Council (RBC) took more than a year to make a “proper” decision on the child’s special educational needs.

The council missed the statutory deadline to complete an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan by more than eight months.

What happened?

Note: For privacy purposes, the mother and son have been anonymised as Mrs B and C.

RBC was asked by Mrs B in late 2017 to assess whether her son C should have an EHC plan.

An EHC plan is a legal document that describes a child or young person’s special educational, health and social care needs.

If the request is valid, an EHC must be completed by a local authority within 20 weeks of a request.

RBC refused to assess the plan but after Mrs appealed this in January 2018, it overturned its decision and began assessing her son’s needs.

But the council failed to make a “proper decision” on C’s placement until April 2019, having started the assessment in March 2018.

The council issued a draft EHC plan to Mrs B in June 2018 but immediately re-opened its assessment, stating it had only issued the plan to meet the statutory timescale and would re-open C’s assessment immediately.

The inspector said: “The council effectively admitted that the plan was unsuitable and its decision to issue it was simply to circumvent statutory timescales.

“This meant the plan…did not fully address C’s needs, nor did the council intend it to, yet it was still formally in place until the council issued a new plan.

“The delay caused significant injustice to C.”

RBC failed to issue a finalised plan until April 2019, more than 15 months after the initial request and more than eight months after the draft plan was issued in June 2018.

Despite C’s school telling the council in September 2018 it could not meet his needs, the council took no substantive action until January 2019, according to the inspector.

The final plan, issued on April 9, 2019, named Mrs B’s preferred school, which was not only a different school to the one C was attending, but a different type of school – an independent special school.

Had the council delivered a proper plan within the statutory time limits, C could have started at a more suitable school in September 2018.

What has the council done to rectify the situation?

Children’s services in Reading were taken over by Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) in December 2018, and the children's company has taken on the responsibility for the failures, most of which preceded their existence.

BFfC has apologised to Mrs B for the council’s failure to keep records showing its conversation with C’s school in July 2018, and for the significant delay in amending and finalising C’s EHC plan.

A spokesman for BFfC said: “We cannot comment on anything before December 2018, but we carried out an investigation into this case and accepted the findings of the Ombudsman.

“We have written a letter of apology to the parent and we are reviewing processes in the light of the ombudsman‘s findings.”

BFfC has paid £1,850 to Mrs B, on behalf of C, to recognise the injustice and a further £500 to recognise the time Mrs B spent pursuing it.

A further payment of £1,000 has been made to Mrs B to recognise that, because of the council’s failings, she felt the need to instruct solicitors.

Although Mrs B said she had paid over £10,000 in solicitors’ fees, the inspector said half of that was for issues not within the scope of the investigation.

Of the £5,000 of fees considered relevant, the inspector said he was unable to determine how much was reasonable or necessary and so could only recommended the council pay a token amount.