Baker Small, the controversial law firm which has made millions of pounds from local authorities by fighting tribunal cases to block families from getting educational and other support for their disabled children, is working for Croydon Council again.
It is just a fortnight since the Croydon Council leader announced that they would suspend working with Baker Small because of their display of a “callous” and “despicable” attitude towards some of the most vulnerable in society.
Inside Croydon has been contacted by worried and angry parents from a number of families who are facing daunting tribunal hearings and who have been formally advised that Baker Small will be acting on behalf of the Labour-run council. Baker Small even has an email address especially for its cases in this borough: Croydon@BakerSmall.co.uk.
Before last months’ controversy over bad-taste tweets sent by the firm’s founder, Mark Small – nicknamed “The Terminator” – Baker Small was estimated to have contracts with around 20 local authorities to provide specialist legal advice in tribunal cases, worth around £1 million per year. Between October 2014 and March 2015, council records showed that Croydon paid the firm £110,000 in regular quarterly tranches.
When Small’s “inhumane” tweets were reported, Tony Newman, the Croydon council leader, announced publicly that the law firm would be suspended from working for the borough and have its conduct investigated.
Newman was responding to reports in The Guardian newspaper which highlighted Small boasting on social media of a recent case victory and ridiculing the families of disabled children.
Small has a reputation for fighting aggressively to deny or end families’ funding for service for those with special educational needs (SEN). The paper reported, “In a now-deleted page on the firm’s website, Small advertised his skills at helping councils cut costs, stating that he had ‘experience of advising local authority SEN departments on a range of matters including managing and terminating ABA programmes [and] parental complaints’.”
The Guardian also said: “The anger over the law firm’s flippant postings has roots in a deeper unease at local authorities’ increasing determination to fight parents at tribunal for funding of their children’s special needs provision.”
That determination in Croydon must be set very firm, as parents have told Inside Croydon that council officials were informing them before the end of June that Milton Keynes-based Baker Small would be acting in their cases again. That will have been within a fortnight of Newman’s assurances of an “investigation”.
“All they’ve done is let the dust settle on the outrage, and now Croydon are just going ahead as normal, using Baker Small as if nothing has happened,” one parent said, on condition of anonymity.
“This is from a borough which pretends that it cares and likes to boast that it has a ‘Autism Champion’. But what are they really doing? They hire a bunch of legal hitmen who make life hell for families like ours.
“Baker Small are hired by the council just to obstruct parents and waste time, all in the knowledge that it is costing families like mine thousands of pounds to fight through the courts just to get access to the sort of services which the council is supposed to provide. They do it on the basis that we will run out of money sooner than the council will and that we’ll go away.”
One parent estimated that they had run up a £15,000 legal bill in the past year in their efforts to get proper SEN support for their child. “Some families can’t afford those sort of costs. They end up not fighting their case – the council, using public money to pay Baker Small, stops them from doing that.”
Other local authorities have said that they will not use Baker Small any more, or that they will not instruct them on new cases.
Inside Croydon has been approached by a number of families who have made similar complaints about Croydon Council’s own conduct in their case.
“The council hasn’t conducted any proper assessments of our child, they’ve not done anything that they are required to do. It’s totally discrimination and it’s all unlawful,” one frustrated parent said.
“But they are able to hire a firm like Baker Small to do their dirty work for them.”
Another parent said, “The struggle to get any support for children with special needs is inhumane.”
- From The Guardian: Simply ‘inhumane’: the law firm that fights parents seeking help for children’s special needs
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