We (Zoe and Philip) are a Mum and son team who’ve been around the block a few times in terms of fighting our corner to get Philip the health, education and social care provision he is entitled to as an autistic young person. We have both written blogs for SNJ in the past – mostly about our use of Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) both in our family and at Bright Futures School.
We have recently set up a CrowdJustice appeal asking for help get our case to Supreme Court to protect young people with additional needs and their families from being bullied and/or mistreated by their local authorities. If the appeal succeeds, it would bring this kind of treatment within the scope of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. This sounds technical and obscure, but it could make a huge difference to families across the country.
What’s the case about?
We started this case in 2019. The wheels of justice turn incredibly slowly ☹
Our local authority treated us both really badly during an appeal to SEND First Tier Tribunal that we had to bring to secure Philip the appropriate post-19 education. We won the Tribunal appeal (huzzah!) and his educational package was fully funded. But we were appalled at how our LA treated us at different points during the case. This included not seeking Philip’s views while claiming to have done so, then ignoring his views when they did get them. They made scurrilous and unfounded accusations against me and they also moved the goalposts in relation to interim agreements they made.
We were aware of lots of other families who had been treated in a similar way by their local authorities and were sick of seeing families’ rights being trampled over by those whose job it was to support them.
To us, it made sense that our appalling treatment by the local authority was not something that would be dealt with by the SEN Tribunal, as the Tribunal is designed to look at particular parts of an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and decide what education the child or young person needs. So, we took our case to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) who we believed had jurisdiction to deal with our complaint and would support us in ensuring that local authorities would not be able to continue with this kind of behaviour.
However, the LGSCO said most of our complaint was outside their jurisdiction, meaning there was no deterrent to local authorities continuing to behave in this way and no remedy for parents who had been mistreated.
Action against the Ombudsman
Using legal aid (thank goodness for this), we then brought a judicial review action against the LGSCO in the High Court. We succeeded in the High Court on one point, that the local authority had made numerous claims about obtaining Philip’s wishes and feelings when they had not. As a result, the Ombudsman will have to reconsider whether to investigate our complaint about this specific issue.
However, we were unsuccessful in our claim that the Ombudsman could consider the LA’s behaviour during and around tribunal proceedings. We went to the Court of Appeal because we didn’t agree that the Tribunal could provide a remedy. It is our view the Ombudsman was the only available way to challenge the council’s behaviour. We were again unsuccessful (sometimes, the law is an ass…….) leaving us with no legal remedy for our mistreatment.
Our last chance to change the law – we need your help!
Our legal team consists of solicitors at the top of their game from Irwin Mitchell as well as barristers who have appeared in many reported cases including leading Supreme Court cases on disability issues. They firmly believe we have a good case.
We are seeking crowdfunding of £15,000 to enable our legal team to request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. If permission is granted, we will then submit another application for legal aid to fund the costs relating to the case being heard in the Supreme Court.
Should local authorities be able to get away with disrespecting, bullying, ignoring or maligning young people with additional needs and their families? Our goal, in a nutshell, is to ensure that if this happens, families have a remedy available to them to challenge the mistreatment via the LGSCO. If the Supreme Court doesn’t consider our case, the law will remain that the Ombudsman is not able to investigate any mistreatment relating to tribunal proceedings. The SEND Tribunal can only give remedies in very limited circumstances, therefore as the law stands this behaviour will only be investigated (and remedied) very rarely.
We can’t get to the Supreme Court without your help – please contribute and share this link with your families and friends and ask them to contribute.
If we are granted permission to appeal by the Supreme Court and then win the appeal, SEND families who have been mistreated by their local authorities will finally be able to challenge any mistreatment if it arises around a Tribunal appeal. We think this will have huge impact for families’ rights, and also the way local authorities behave to our families.
Thanks for your help!
- Expert group recommends reducing SEND Tribunal appeals by getting decisions right first time
- Zoe’s posts on SNJ
- Philip’s posts on SNJ
- RDI and me: How this amazing autism programme has helped me thrive
- 84% of Ombudsman complaints about Education and Children’s Services upheld
- Ombudsman calls for wider powers to investigate SEND and exclusions in all schools
- New School Transport Guidance ignores both equality and case laws protecting disabled learners
- The ABC of the LGSCO: How to complain to the Ombudsman over SEND failures
- Disabled children “increasingly failed” as nearly 9 in 10 EHCP Ombudsman complaints upheld
- Exclusion must be a last resort says EHRC as they support a family to justice over their disabled child’s treatment
- For children with SEND and their parents, a compassionate teacher is key
- Research: Cost of Living Crisis having “profound and far-reaching consequences”, increasing SEND needs while forcing cuts to school support budgets
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