Ombudsman: Council 'still failing' family of man with special educational needs

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Council said it disputed the ombudsman's conclusions but would consider the recommendations. - Credit: Archant

Redbridge Council repeatedly failed the family of a 20-year-old man with special educational needs, according to an ombudsman.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) this week published two separate reports concerning complaints made by the family. 

The ombudsman criticised the council for failing to carry out a previously agreed remedy following an earlier complaint and said it removed aspects of the man’s health provision from his Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. 

It has advised the council to pay the family £1,700, but the authority said it disputed the conclusions.

Ombudsman Michael King revealed that the watchdog had been investigating problems faced by the family since as early as 2010. 

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He said: “The council has had plenty of time to get things right for the family.  

“That it is still failing them is incredibly disappointing and I call on it to review why this is and apologise. 

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“It is also disappointing the council has not yet agreed to my recommendations.  

“I urge it to accept the improvements I have recommended to the services it provides to families of children and young adults with special educational needs in the borough.” 

A council spokesperson said: "On this occasion, we believe the LGSCO has made a judgement based on their perception of the role of local authorities in meeting the needs of students with special educational needs, rather than what our duties and responsibilities actually are in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice."

The ombudsman’s first report relates to a 2019 complaint, which saw Redbridge agree to conduct an annual review of the man’s Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan by the end of January 2020. 

But the ombudsman said the council failed to carry out the remedy and did not provide it with the required evidence until threatened with a High Court witness summons. 

When the evidence was provided, the ombudsman described it showing that no new review had taken place, with the council relying on one carried out in July 2019. 

The second complaint saw the watchdog conclude the council failed to conduct an adequate review of the man’s EHC Plan in July 2018 and delayed issuing the plan. 

Some aspects of the man’s health provision – including immunisations, updating orthopaedic boots and dental treatment – were wrongly removed from his draft plan, according to the ombudsman.

Despite the family’s objections, the ombudsman said the council issued a final plan identical to the draft. 

It told the council to apologise to the family and pay £200 to recognise "the frustration and uncertainty" caused by its failure to comply with the agreed remedy. 

The council was also told to pay £750 to the man for "the lost opportunity to have his health needs considered properly" and a further £750 for the father’s "avoidable distress". 

The ombudsman also encouraged the council to arrange a meeting with the parents and the designated clinical officer, as well as review its processes for issuing amended EHC plans. 

Despite saying it disputed the ombudsman’s conclusions, the council said it would consider its recommendations. 

A spokesperson said: “First and foremost, the council always endeavours to act in the best interests of our residents. 

“We made all the necessary support available to the young person and their family at the time, though we recognise that the family did not access that support for reasons which were beyond the control of both the family and the local authority."

The spokesperson added that the council has engaged "in extensive correspondence" with the ombudsman about this case.  

But they said the council is disappointed after alleging that the ombudsman "chose not to consider the detailed evidence that we put forward". 

“Naturally we take all reports from the ombudsman very seriously.

“We would not wish to put any family in the middle of a difference of view between the local authority and the LGSCO.  

“Therefore, we will work with our partners in the NHS to consider the LGSCO recommendations because of the priority which we place on putting our residents first.” 

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