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Families waiting too long for special needs support in England

View profile for Mollie Jones
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A recent article published by the BBC calls attention to the significant delays that families who require SEN support face. With an increase in applications for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP’s), families are far too often facing unnecessary set backs and children with SEN are continuing to suffer as a result of Local Authorities inability to keep on top of their own case load. 

The article includes some interesting statistics which help to clarify just how many cases Local Authorities have been managing and more importantly, how many cases they have been unable to conclude within the 20 week deadline as per the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Regulations 2014. 

The article states ‘’Over the period of 2014-2015, 26,505 applications took longer than 20 weeks to finalise- including more than 6,000 last year alone’’. This is quite concerning and certainly shows that the demand for EHCP’s is increasing year after year and that Local Authorities are struggling to manage as a result. 

The 20 week process of obtaining an EHCP is as follows:

Week 0 – Parents submit a request for an EHC Needs Assessment 
Week 6 – The Local Authority decides whether to assess the child or refuse
Week 16 – Following an assessment, the Local Authority decide to issue an EHCP or refuse
Week 18 – Parents must make representations regarding the draft EHCP
Week 20 – A final EHCP is issued. 

Whilst this time frame appears relatively straight forward to follow , we, as Educational Law Solicitors frequently see a significant amount of delays and in turn, these delays are detrimental to  the child in need. Local Authorities often refuse to conduct EHC needs assessments and then concede appeals rather than attending hearings. These are examples of delays that we experience regularly. Such conduct only prolongs the process and unfortunately, it is the children and families who require SEN support who suffer the consequences. 

Evidentially from the statistics provided, the increase in the number of requests for EHCP’s has placed Local Authorities in a difficult situation. Whilst they are trying to abide by the regulatory time frames, the sheer amount of cases is making this difficult. Suffolk County Council in particular took 1,023 days to complete an EHCP. That is 2.8 years, 532 school days. 3,192 hours in school without adequate support.

The article includes figures from West Sussex County Council in which they told the BBC that they had seen a 44% increase in the number of EHC plans it holds over the last four years. A council spokesman said ‘’Despite this increase, there has been a year on year improvement in us meeting the 20-week deadline for final EHCP’s and we are committed to continuing this’’. Whilst some Local Authorities are attempting to manage the increase, it is not possible for every Local Authority to remain efficient. 

Nevertheless, children with SEN are essentially being let down due to Local Authorities lack of capacity. This is unacceptable and children with SEN need to be prioritised. Whilst applications continue to increase, Local Authorities need to adhere to time frames and ensure that children with SEN are able to receive the support they require as soon as possible. Allowing children to continue to struggle within maintained mainstream provisions without appropriate support purely due to a higher than normal case load, highlights the flaws in the system. 

The process of obtaining an EHCP can be difficult to grasp and having legal representation can help to keep matters moving forward. At HCB Solicitors we are specialists in education law. We understand the importance of the process and how to best put forth your application for an EHCP. We work alongside the Local Authority, negotiate throughout and ensure that timeframes are adhered to in order to obtain the best possible outcome for your child. 

If you have questions or concerns contact our specialist team on 0333 202 7175