WIRRAL Council has had to pay nearly £23,000 to two families after failures meant their children missed out on school.

Two recent decisions by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) upheld complaints against the local authority criticising it for delays and poor communication when providing support for the families who have children with special education needs. For one family, the council was ordered to pay £7,800 in total while another family were given a total of £15,190 for the “distress” and “injustice” caused.

For the family paid £15,190 in total, the council had failed to issue a final Education, Health and Care Plan over several years with poor communication and delays causing “significant uncertainty, distress, and frustration for the family.” This plan, sometimes referred to as an EHCP, identifies what education, health or social needs a child might need if they have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND.)

The council had considered the complaint and accepted fault but the mother, referred to as Mrs X, asked the LGO to review what the council put forward as a remedy for what happened. The issues first arose after the council failed to issue a decision letter and final EHC plan in March 2021.

The investigation also found between January and September 2022, there was “a lack of action, contact and administrative errors” by the council and an independent advisor contacted the council on behalf of the council “raising serious concerns” as the child, referred to as Y, had been offered a sixth form place through the family, not the council.

There were other delays and a final plan was issued in January 2024, nearly three years later. When asked how it would prevent similar situations happening again, Wirral Council told the LGO: “Some of the practice was historical and did not reflect current practice.”

This included an additional £600,000 given to it to recruit more staff in its SEND team, changing case management “to ensure easier and more accurate record keeping for staff.” and changing the team’s structure to provide more staff stability and consistency for families” and “ensure clearer case accountability going forward.”

However the council was praised for offering an additional remedy of £500 to the family and providing support from autumn 2023 to early 2024 when the final decision was made. It said the council had also taken “wide scale steps” to improve services and “help prevent future recurrence of wider faults.”

Nevertheless, the Ombudsman said there were grounds for a new complaint against the council for further delays following meetings held in June 2023.  The LGO ordered the council to apologise again, pay Mrs X £15,190 as well as reimburse her for the schooling she paid for her son.

For the family paid £7,800, Wirral Council was found at fault for not getting school provision sorted and failing to complete an annual review as part of an EHCP. This case involved a grandchild who had been out of school since March 2023 after the school he had been at couldn’t fulfil his needs.

His grandmother said this was causing him “avoidable distress and isolation as he is not going to school.” It was also impacting the wider family who had to change their working hours to look after the grandson, describing it as being “at times like passing ships in the night.”

The Local Government Ombudsman investigates complaints against public organisations like councils, social care providers, and hospital trusts. In this case, the council upheld all the complaints and was found at fault for not issuing decisions. It also found the council was aware the grandchild wasn’t receiving the education outlined in his plan.

The LGO ordered the council to apologise, complete the annual review, meet with the family to allow the grandchild to start school, and make the payments totalling £7,800. In three months, staff within the SEND will need to receive training, give parents alternative contact numbers for staff, and introduce new procedures.

A spokesperson for Wirral Council said: “We accept the findings in both cases and are apologising to the two families concerned and paying the compensation as indicated by the Ombudsman.

“The Local Authority recognises and takes extremely seriously its duty to allow for alternative provision for children not able to attend school. Like many local authorities, SEND provision has been a particularly challenging area for the council in recent years and considerable effort has been – and continues to be – invested in efforts to deliver high quality provision for children and young people who need it.

“As acknowledged in one of the Ombudsman decisions there have been “wide scale steps the Council has recently taken to improve the standard of its services and learning” and that Ombudsman said they were “satisfied these actions are appropriate to help prevent future recurrence of wider faults”. Although the council is not yet where we need to be, the changes are being implemented to put the authority on the right track to delivering the services families want and expect.”