Surrey council fined £7,400 over failures for boy with SEND

Croydon is not the only local authority in trouble. Tory-run Surrey County Council has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman after a second investigation into its failures to properly support a young boy with special educational needs.

The Ombudsman had previously investigated the council’s failures to provide proper education to the same child five years ago, in 2018.

Surrey has agreed to review how it arranges and monitors special educational needs support for children and young people following the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation.

In the latest instance, the Ombudsman investigated after Surrey failed to provide the boy with his full entitlement of education and therapy for 18 months.

The Ombudsman also criticised the way the council handled the family’s complaint.

As part of his Education, Health and Care plan the boy should have received 15 hours tutoring a week, along with speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. However, between September 2020 and January 2021 he received just four hours a week. This rose to six hours a week in February 2021.

A Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Tribunal in April 2021 ordered the council to increase tutoring to 25 hours a week. The Tribunal also ordered the plan to include weekly therapeutic provision, which could include animal therapy.

The boy’s mother complained to the council in June 2021 that her son had not received his full entitlement of education and therapy since September 2020 and that it had still not put in place all the provision ordered by the Tribunal.

It took until the end of September 2021 for the full speech and language therapy provision to be put in place and March 2022 before the animal therapy started. The mother had made the council aware the animal therapy had not started from May 2021, but the council did not follow this up.

‘It is disappointing that the council did not learn from the issues raised in my first investigation’: Ombudsman Michael King

The boy’s relationship with the arranged occupational therapist broke down in December 2021, and the council did not put in place an alternative until March 2022.

“Councils cannot delegate their duties to ensure provision laid out in young people’s EHC Plans are delivered,” said Michael King, the Local Government Ombudsman.

“After councils issue these plans we expect them to ensure all the provision included is in place – and if it is not, it should act to secure it without delay.

“In this case the boy missed out on a significant amount of tuition and therapies for a prolonged period, despite a previous investigation by us which found the son did not get education between 2018 and 2020.

“It is disappointing that the council did not learn from the issues raised in my first investigation.

“I am also concerned with the confusing way the council handled the mother’s complaints, at one stage taking 11 months to handle a complaint that should – according to its own policy – have taken a maximum of 30 days.

“The council has accepted my recommendations to improve its processes and I hope the better oversight this will bring will ensure other children and young people in Surrey do not miss out on the education and therapy they are entitled to in the same way.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says that it “remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services”.

Yet councils such as Surrey, and Croydon, are never obliged to publish the findings of the Ombudsman’s investigations to which they are subjected – something which might, in this case alone, have done much to avoid the matter needing to be investigated twice in five years.

The Ombudsman’s office said today, “In this case the council has agreed to pay the family a combined £7,400 for the lost education and provision, and for the frustration and distress they felt between March 2020 and May 2022.

“Surrey County Council will review its procedures for how it arranges and monitors delivery of provisions in the EHC Plans of its young people that is under a duty to provide.

“It will also review its children and education services complaints processes to ensure complaints are investigated in line with its policy.”

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