Reading Borough Council (RBC) has apologised after failing to ensure a child in Reading with special needs got adequate support.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) inspector found the council and its children’s services company Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) had failed to ensure the boy received the correct amount of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

Children with special educational who require extra support are given an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This sets out the child’s needs and what arrangements should be made to meet them.

The child’s ECHP was finalised in July 2019 following a SEND tribunal decision, which said he should have weekly hour-long speech and language therapy sessions and fortnightly occupational therapy sessions.

However, in April 2020, the child’s school said it could not provide hour-long sessions with a therapist because of staffing issues and had instead managed to provide 30 minutes with a speech and language therapist and 30 minutes with an assistant each week.

Concerns were raised by the mother but the issue was not addressed until January 2021, when the council agreed to give the child’s mum a personal budget for her to pay for an academic year’s worth of sessions to remedy C’s lost therapy:

38 one-hour speech and language sessions

19 one-hour occupational therapy sessions

At this point the mother had already formally complained to the council and then the LGO.

The complaints

In July 2020, the mother formally complained to the council, saying the council had delayed her son’s 2019 and 2020 annual reviews, failed to secure adequate therapy and its report for the 2020 review was “not fit for purpose”.

EHCPs should be reviewed by the council at least every 12 months but the reviews in 2019 and 2020 took place after 14 and 15 months.

In August 2020, the council agreed the 2019 annual review was delayed but did not accept the other complaints.

The mother escalated her complaints to stage two and the investigating officer upheld her complaints, saying the annual review process had fallen short of expectations.

BFfC wrote to the mother in October 2020, accepting the conclusions and recommendations from the investigating officer and offering her £100 for her time and trouble.

The mother then brought her complaint to the Ombudsman.

The investigator’s decision

The ombudsman investigator said BFfC was at fault for failing to hold annual reviews and failing to ensure the child received the care he was entitled to.

When a council commissions another organisation to provide services on its behalf it remains responsible for those services and for the actions of the organisation providing them. So, although the investigator found fault with BFfC, it made the recommendations to RBC.

The inspector said the council had taken some steps to remedy the injustice caused by its faults but asked to pay the mother £200 to recognise the time and trouble put in and the stress caused.

In a joint statement from the council and children’s services company, a spokesman said: “Both BFfC and RBC accept the findings of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

“Both organisations have taken the agreed action as detailed in the ombudsman’s report. This has included an apology to Mrs B for the time and trouble involved in pursuing her complaint.”

They said the number of children with EHCPs in Reading has increased significantly over the last three years and BFfC has been “working extremely hard to keep up with demand, meet deadlines and improve the quality of EHCPs”.

The council and BFfC said this is now showing positive results, with a recent inspection finding EHCPs are produced in a timely fashion, with the vast majority produced within the expected 20-week period.

But the spokesman added: “We are not complacent and will continue to work hard to improve performance in this area and prevent further complaints like this.”