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(UK) Somerset: $2,000 fine for council denying school to disabled girl for months

Sept 7, 2023, Somerset Live: Somerset Council fined £1,600 [$1,996] after girl with special needs misses months of school

SW England

Somerset Council has been given a further fine by regulators after allowing another child with special needs to miss months of school.

The current council and its predecessor Somerset County Council have been reprimanded on numerous recent occasions by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) over delays in ensuring that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have access to quality schooling. Over the last 12 months, the ombudsman has served up several hefty fines on the councils to reflect their poor performance - including £2,000 [$2,500] in both October 2022 and March 2023, and £3,300 [$3,700] in August 2023.

The latest judgement against the council has seen them fined £1,600 for failing to ensure a girl (known only as Y) was left without suitable school provision for months as her care needs were assessed by officers. The council has apologised to the child's mother, known as Mrs X, and has said it is working hard to speed up reviews of education provision.

The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of "maladministration" and "service failure" in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers. Under UK law, it is not mandatory that any child with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) must be provided with an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

However, any child which does have an EHCP must have this plan reviewed on at least an annual basis by the council, the parents and the school where the child is receiving education. An EHCP was finalised for Y in June 2021, including the selection of a secondary school (School A) which she would begin attending in September 2022….

School A informed Mrs X in June that they could not meet her daughter's needs - and claimed they had told the council that this was the case after the EHCP had been agreed. Mrs X contacted the council multiple times over the summer, but was "not able to get a satisfactory response", forcing her to lodge a formal complaint in early-August….

The council further apologised in December 2022 and finally issued the new ECHP for Y in early-January 2023 - though it was not able to confirm a date when Y could start attending School B. The ombudsman found the council was "at fault" for taking three months to update Mrs X after the annual review, rather than the required four weeks….

The ombudsman concluded: "The fault in the council delaying Y's final EHCP has caused an injustice which caused Mrs X distress and uncertainty." The council has been ordered to pay £1,600 to Mrs X to "recognise the injustice to Y", as well as reviewing Y's current provision until they can start at School B.

A Somerset Council spokesman said: "In this case we have accepted the findings and apologised to the families for any distress caused to them. The ombudsman have contacted us to confirm that they are satisfied all the activities requested of us in the agreed time-scales have been completed.

"Our most recent feedback from Ofsted recognises the improvements we have made across children’s services, but we know there is more to do and are committed to learning from all complaints."


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