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Ombudsman raps council for carrying out fewer annual reviews of EHC Plans than law requires

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Luton Borough Council after an investigation found that the local authority had carried out “significantly fewer” annual reviews of children’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans than the law requires.

Upholding a complaint about the education provided to a primary school aged child, the Ombudsman found the council had not reviewed or amended the child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan as required by law.

The LGO said its investigation also found Luton “could not accurately say how many annual reviews it had undertaken because it does not have complete information about review meetings which have taken place in its schools”.

When the Ombudsman made further inquiries about the way Luton reviews plans, the council could not provide figures for the number of plans which have been amended and issued.

It also could not give numbers for the amount of plans it had decided to stop maintaining, or where it had made the decision to continue with them unamended.

The Ombudsman added: “Overall the council’s information showed it did not have an adequate system to ensure children’s EHC Plans are reviewed properly as required by law and statutory guidance, and the council had not been monitoring the delivery of those plans it had issued.”

Luton has agreed to:

  • pay £4,086 for the child’s educational provision and a further £500 for the mother’s distress and time and trouble;
  • pay them a further £100 to acknowledge the frustration it caused and delaying the family’s right to appeal;
  • produce a detailed action plan to produce its own procedures for monitoring the delivery of all its EHC Plans through annual reviews. This plan will give a timescale for when it plans to put the procedures in place and the staff training needed to implement this.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Our investigation into the concerns raised by a mother about the services provided to her child echo those raised by both the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted in their joint review of Luton’s special educational needs services.

“It is vitally important that councils make regular reviews of children’s EHC Plans to ensure they meet the children’s current, rather than historic needs. The council is aware that reviews are not being held for some children, but has stressed it is working hard to improve its information systems.”

King added: “I welcome the steps the council is making to improve its services for children in its area and it will keep us informed of the action it is going to take. We have also informed Ofsted of our findings under our information sharing agreement with them.”

Cllr Mahmood Hussain, portfolio holder for children’s services at Luton Borough Council, said: “We are sorry that this child and their family have clearly not received the offer and experience of quality service that they need.

“We accept the findings of the Ombudsman’s report and acknowledge that we did not review the Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan within the statutory timescales.”

Cllr Hussain said the council was already working on a robust action plan to ensure regular reviews of all children’s EHC Plans are conducted within statutory timescales. “We have also appointed a significant number of additional staff to support the process as we are determined to ensure that all children in Luton get the right support at the right time.”

He added: “We are currently coming to the end of a programme that has seen 220 professionals from across health, social care and education at Luton Council receive training on the EHCP process and the associated statutory responsibilities.”

See also: Schools please note - annual reviews: Good preparation is key to the successful delivery of annual reviews of EHC Plans, writes Hayley Mason