More than nine out of 10 complaints made by parents about education, health and care plans for young people have been upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, a new report reveals.
The figure is contained in the ombudsman's annual review of its complaints about local government.
The report describes the 91 per cent of upheld complaints about EHC plans as "unprecedented" and warns that the system is in crisis and getting worse.
EHC plans: Everything you need to know
Report: SEND in crisis, ombudsman warns
EHC plans replaced statements of special needs and are supposed to guarantee that children and young people with additional needs have those needs met by local services.
SEND: Failings to provide EHC plans
However, the ombudsman warned that its investigations reveal “continued failings across the sector to properly provide EHC plans”.
The review also shows that in 2019-20 the office of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published 63 public interest reports – which it says allow it to share lessons learned from the cases it investigates and to hold authorities to account.
More than a third of these were about failings in education and children’s services.
The report adds: “In response to the significant number of investigations we have carried out and the concerning uphold rate – sitting at an unprecedented 91 per cent for the year – we published a third focus report on the issue.
“I urge all councils with responsibilities for EHC plans to learn from the experiences of the families and children highlighted in the report and to take steps to avoid the problems that appear to beset the system.
The report adds: “Two years on from sharing our experience of the first 100 investigations into complaints about education, health and care (EHC) plans, our evidence suggests a system in crisis, which is getting worse.
"We reveal we are upholding an unprecedented nine out of every 10 investigations and raise concerns about authorities gatekeeping services by changing eligibility criteria and basing some decisions on financial cost rather than meeting assessed need.
"Serious issues we highlight include severe delays when issuing an EHC plan, failing to anticipate local needs, poor communication and preparation for meetings, and lack of oversight by senior staff.”
In 2018-19, 87 per cent of complaints against EHC plans were upheld.
Commenting on the most recent figures, SEND barrister Steve Broach said: “Just take that in – nearly all the EHC plan complaints last year amounted to maladministration.
“In a functioning system, what percentage of complaints of maladministration would you expect to be upheld? I’d say 30 per cent.”
A spokesperson for SEND Action, a campaign group which represents families of children with SEND said: “We share the ombudsman’s concern. Every complaint tells the story of a disabled child or young person who has been failed by the system meant to support them. Considered together, the complaints expose extraordinary local and national failings in the SEND system.
"That an already unprecedented rate has increased by a further 4 per cent since last year is a damning indictment of the government’s failure to address this situation and to hold local authorities to account regarding their statutory duties."
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints from SEND parents about council decisions in handling the EHC plan process.
But it does not have the power to investigate SEND parents' complaints about their experience in schools.
However, Tes revealed last week that the ombudsman is in talks with the DfE about this after a report by the Commons Education Select Committee called for the ombudsman’s powers to be extended to cover schools.