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Northamptonshire council apologises for distress caused by delays to child’s education plan

A mother has said that her distressed daughter has missed out on education, health and care provision, after there were major delays from a Northamptonshire council in issuing her a plan. West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) has apologised for the 27-week delay and was ordered to pay the mother £675 in recognition of the impact on her and her child.

The complaint was raised after her daughter, who was being home-schooled due to anxiety, did not receive her education, health and care plan (EHCP) in October 2022, which was when the 20-week statutory timescales set out. The plan was presented subsequently to the family in May, taking over double the time that it should have.

The pupil had been out of main school education since December 2021 and was taken off the school roll in early 2022 due to her struggle with attending classes impacting her mental health. The mother said she thought her daughter had an autism spectrum condition and had contacted CAMHS, but wanted her to return to school as soon as possible once they knew how to support her.

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In June 2022, WNC was asked to assess the student for an EHC plan. The council agreed to assess the child for a EHCP in July and told her mother that it would be completed by October the same year, in line with statutory timescales.

The mum complained that the assessment hadn’t been completed by October and WNC explained that the delay was because of a shortage of educational psychologists. They advised this was a national issue and that the council would assign her daughter an educational psychologist (EP) in January.

An EP began working on the case in the new year and the council apologised to the mother for the delays and upheld her complaint. The final EHC plan was issued in May, over half a year after it was initially promised.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman upheld a complaint against the council for its handling of the situation and found fault from the council in “significant breaches of timescales”. The Ombudsman acknowledged that the WNC had already accepted fault and apologised to the parent for delays, but criticised that it did not offer any “remedy for the injustice caused by the delay”.

The council has since agreed to make a “symbolic payment” of £675 to recognise the “distress, frustration and uncertainty caused”. The payment was calculated at roughly £100 for each month of delay in providing her with the EHCP.

A spokesperson for WNC said: “We acknowledge that we have not met the required timelines to issue an EHCP plan and we fully accept the ombudsman’s recommendations.

“Similar to other local areas in the country, we are continuing to see a rise in the number of children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities who need support and we know how extremely challenging this situation is and the daily impact it is having on families in West Northants – this is a priority for us.

“There is still much to do to deliver better outcomes for our young people, however, we are working hard with parents, carers, and partners to create real solutions for this.

“We have now launched our SEND Strategy, and we have a delivery plan to help us provide the service that children and families deserve. We are not where we need to be, and this will take time for us a partnership to get there, but we are working hard to make this happen.

“We have been able to implement solutions in the last year that are steps in the right direction, that will enable us to address the growing demand for EHCP plans and support.

“An example of this is the significant investment into educational psychologists that has been implemented from this September to support with completing overdue assessment and we are already seeing gradual improvements on this.”

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