The Ombudsman’s report into EHC plans: our analysis

At the end of October, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO), Michael Kind, released his report into his team’s first 100 investigations into complaints about Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

On the Ombudsman’s website, Mr King says ‘The system is not failing universally. But for those people who come to us, we are finding significant problems – sometimes suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential.’

The Ombudsman’s role is to highlight poor practice and report on failings in the worst cases. It is important to note here therefore that the report should not be seen as a collection of standard-quality case studies. It is also worth noting that the Ombudsman cannot rule on health issues, so the case studies in the report are all education issues. It may be worth considering in future whether a joint report with the body responsible for NHS services, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, would be more appropriate for a system which does by its very nature cross into different areas.

We would urge all local authority SEND staff to read this report - if the recommendations on Page 21 (‘Getting things right’) were implemented, this could make a significant difference to young people and their families. If you are a local councillor, or work with one, do consider the questions on page 22 which are key areas of consideration for democratic scrutiny.

Here is a brief summary of the findings:

  • Enquiries doubled between 2014/15 and 2015/16. This amounts to a total of 100 formally complaining over the two years.
  • 79% of investigations are being upheld - compared with an average of 53% of all LGO investigations across their work, meaning that EHC plan investigations are significantly more likely to be upheld than other types, and that the Ombudsman is agreeing with families much more than usual.
  • The Ombudsman thinks 'it likely that many councils will miss the impending cut-off date of April 2018'.
  • Issues highlighted the Ombudsman include delay, failing to gather evidence/professional advice within the six-week timeframe, poor arrangements for meetings and/or transfer reviews and transfers generally, families being told late about the Council's preferred placement and/or not being given correct information about personal budgets, and failing to name a school in the final EHCP.
  • The Ombudsman comments specifically on the use of panels in decision making by the Local Authority. According to the law, decisions about a child or young person’s care should take place as openly and practicably as possible, involving the young person and their family. However, where panels were not used well, families felt excluded from the decision making process and their views ignored. If panels are hindering, rather than supporting the involvement of children, young people and parents, we would urge local authorities to review their use.

Below, we include links to a number of different resources which should help improve practice further.

Resources

If you are a parent:

Please speak to your local IASS and IS services. Also see this ‘SEND myths’ document and our case law series (which professionals may also find useful).

For professionals:

Please see below for our advice on EHCP guidance and content for health and social care, our annual review guidance for EHC plans. There are also links to the Ombudsman's report itself and further guidance from IPSEA.