Councils in England waste £60 million on court disputes about support for children with special educational needs

2 mins read

Monday 25 September 2023

Tags: special educational needs, tribunals, EHCP

A new report by Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) and Pro Bono Economics has found that lost SEND tribunals cost taxpayers £60 million in 2021-22.

The report, Wasting Money, Wasting Potential, published today, found that:

  • Families of children with special educational needs (SEN) lodged 11,000 tribunal appeals in 2021-22, up 29% on 2020-21.
  • Councils lost 96% of tribunals that progressed to a hearing.
  • The cost of those failed tribunals was of £60 million – split between councils and courts.
  • Wasted money could have funded nearly 10,000 extra places in SEN units in schools.
  • Nearly 3,500 disputed Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan cases were withdrawn or conceded before they got to tribunal hearing.
  • In 2022, for the first time, fewer than half of all EHCPs were issued within the statutory minimum of 20 weeks due to a surge in demand.

These tribunals were brought by parent carers disputing council decisions about their child’s support needs in education, including assessing and issuing an EHC plan and about the contents of the plan.

Emotional and financial strain

Contact, a leading member of DCP, hears from many families going through the tribunal process.

Michele Cefai, Head of Communications at Contact, said: “The tribunal process puts tremendous strain on families, both emotionally and financially. And the wait for support can lead to increased difficulties for children and young people, including deteriorating mental and physical health, which can lead to persistent absence from school.

“Local authorities lose the vast majority of tribunal cases, so there needs to be a recognition that parents know their child best. This money would be better used providing support to children with special educational needs.”

DCP is calling for:

  • Government to ringfence resources for early information, advice and support for parents navigating the system.
  • Better training for local council staff so they make the right, lawful decisions first time.
  • Stronger accountability.

Information for affected families

Find out how to get an EHC plan for your child.

If you disagree with a council’s decision on the support your child gets in school, you can appeal to the SEND tribunal.