Kent County Council has been ordered to apologize to 170 families awaiting SEND complaints and pay £1,800 to a mother whose son was left without Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) for 13 months.
The council has also been ordered to pay £100 a month for every month the SALT was not set up from January 2023 until the SALT provision is in place, to be used for the child’s benefit.
Council has agreed to apologise to 170 families affected
The pay award comes following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman who also uncovered a further 170 unanswered children’s services and education complaints.
Kent County Council confirmed it had 141 overdue Special Educational Needs (SEND) stage one complaints and a further 29 overdue SEND stage two complaints.
The council’s policy is to respond to all SEND complaints within 20 days, yet there average response time is currently 43 working days for stage one complaints and 51 working days for stage two complaints.
The council has agreed to write to each of the 170 people identified apologising for the delay in responding to the complaints.
It has also agreed to review its Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan procedures to ensure statutory timescales are met and that it communicates with parents appropriately throughout the process, and develop an action plan to show how it intends to address ongoing delays with EHC Plan annual reviews and complaints about them.
Ensuring other children are not put to a disadvantage
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Paul Najsarek, said he is “concerned” about the effect these delays will have on children with special educational needs.
“Kent County Council has explained to me that its delays in dealing with complaints are due to low staffing levels and high workloads, but this cannot excuse the council from performing its duty to these parents.
“With such systemic issues in responding to complaints, I am concerned that there is a potential for significant ongoing injustice to many of the county’s children until the council gets on top of this backlog,” he said.
Mr Najsarek says he is pleased the council has accepted his recommendations “not only to improve its complaints handling but also its Education, Health and Care Plan process to ensure other children in the county are not put to a disadvantage.”