Council found at fault for failing four families with thousands paid out

Thousands of pounds have been paid out to four families due to failures and delays at Wirral Council.

The decisions, which dated from late March to April, are several of the latest decisions published by the Local Government Ombudsman which investigated complaints made against the local authority over their handling of education provision for children with special educational needs. In total, £9,700 was paid out.

All four of the cases related to issues around education, health and care plans (ECHPs) which outline a child’s needs and any arrangements required to meet them. These plans are issued by Wirral Council but the local authority has been criticised in the past for delays which have left families in limbo.

One family was awarded £1,600 due to two full terms missed as a result of the council’s actions and an apology was given.

Wirral Council was also ordered to pay £3,600 to one man for not providing the provision specified in his ECHP as well as an extra £200 due to the time the man, referred to as Mr Y, spent pursuing the complaint.

Another family was paid £500 due to the “avoidable distress” and “the avoidable uncertainty caused through a lack of further transitional planning that would have otherwise taken place”. The council was also ordered to apologise.

Wirral Council was also ordered to pay £500 to one family for delays getting advice as well as an additional £3,300 “for lost educational provision to reflect the failure to take any action to support Y to return to school with appropriate support in place or to provide alternative education for the last half term in 2022 and for the school year September 2022 to July 2023”.

In May 2024, Wirral Council was served with an improvement notice threatening government intervention if it doesn’t improve its SEND services by 2025. The local authority has also come under fresh scrutiny following an investigation by BBC Panorama into the Life Wirral school in New Brighton.

Following the notice issued in May, a new board has been set up as well as new plans produced which include 500 new places in mainstream schools over the next five years.

Going forward, the council said it is expanding its team that assesses applications for children with SEND so they are processed on time, is setting up a contact for parents to speak to an advisor five days a week, hiring more educational psychologists, and increasing investment in specialist pathways. It said listening meetings are also being held between parent carers and senior leaders across Wirral.

A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “As noted in these Ombudsman decisions issued some months ago, the council fully accepted the findings in these cases which date back a number of years and has apologised to the families concerned, including paying compensation.

“The Local Authority has a duty to allow for alternative provision for children not able to attend school. The council recognises and takes this role extremely seriously. As for many local authorities across the country, SEND provision has been a particularly challenging area in recent years with increasing demands. Considerable effort has been – and continues to be – invested in efforts to deliver high quality provision for children and young people who need it.

“Earlier this year the Department for Education (DfE) published an improvement notice to the council for SEND, following an Ofsted and CQC inspection, as a result of poor progress across the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) sector in the borough.

“Although the council is not yet where we need to be the changes are being urgently put in place to ensure the authority is significantly improving in delivering the services families want and expect.”

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