Poor communication and delays providing 'suitable' education for child mean £4k fine for Central Bedfordshire Council

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Standard of communication 'fell well below an acceptable standard' said ombudsman

A local government watchdog has fined Central Bedfordshire Council nearly £4,000 because of delays issuing an education health and care plan (EHCP) and poor communication.

A resident complained the local authority failed to provide suitable education for her daughter when she was unable to attend school.

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There was fault in how the council took too long to issue her EHCP and to arrange alternative education, and in how it communicated with her mother, according to the local government and social care ombudsman.

Central Beds CouncilCentral Beds Council
Central Beds Council

CBC agreed to fully apologise for those delays and pay a financial remedy, said the ombudsman. “The complainant was unhappy about delays in the needs assessment for her daughter in 2022 and in finding a suitable school place.

“Her daughter has been without suitable education since September 2022, causing the family significant distress and upset, and meaning she couldn’t work full-time.

“CBC was asked to assess her daughter’s special educational needs in late 2021, when she was at primary school and due to attend her local mainstream secondary school from September 2022.

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“She told the council her daughter would need more help when moving to secondary school. She asked for an update in March 2022.

“CBC said it had decided to issue an EHCP for her daughter, but it had still to receive all the advice it needed to prepare this. The delay was because of a lack of capacity within its educational psychology service.

“Her daughter started attending her local mainstream secondary school without an EHCP setting out her needs or what help she should receive. After about three weeks of sporadic attendance, she could no longer attend because of her anxiety.

“She told CBC her daughter could attend this school with the support set out in the plan.”

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CBC accepted it had communicated poorly and had failed to reply to some of her messages. The council failed to clarify whether she wanted to electively home educate her daughter and took too long to refer her for tuition after it decided to arrange this in June 2023. It apologised to her and offered her £1,600 for her daughter’s missed education and distress caused.

“I consider the standard of CBC’s communication with the mother between late 2021 and September 2023 fell well below an acceptable standard,” explained the ombudsman. “There were several periods when she wasn’t updated about what was happening for over a month.

“On the balance of probabilities, I’m satisfied CBC failed to respond to some of her emails and phone calls. That poor communication was fault, which caused her significant frustration and distress over an extended period of time.

“CBC will fully apologise to both the mother and daughter for the delays in arranging suitable alternative education from the start of 2023 and pay £3,950, of which £700 recognises the avoidable distress, frustration and uncertainty caused by the delays in issuing the first EHCP, and £2,650 recognises the education she missed between January and October 2023.

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“Of the remainder, £300 is intended for the daughter for the distress caused by the delays in arranging suitable alternative education and £300 because of CBC’s poor communication with the mother between late 2021 and September 2023.”