The Local Government Ombudsman has ruled against a council for the way it handled an application for a special grant for an 18-year-old student with learning difficulties.
The Ombudsman found there was maladministration causing injustice in the way Cheshire County Council handled the issue and has recommended compensation should be paid to the student and the parent who pursued the case on her behalf.
The complaint was made by the mother of Kate Jones (not her real name - the law forbids its publication) who said the council failed properly to assess her daughter's learning difficulties when she was 18 years old, and that they failed to give her daughter adequate advice, help and support.
The complaint centres on the adequacy of an assessment made in 1992 of Kate's learning difficulties and the quality of the advice given as a result of it. Kate's mother said that the assessment did not state that Kate had dyslexia. As a result she did not apply for a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and was not considered for additional help when she went on to two further educational establishments. She subsequently paid for an independent assessment which resulted in a DSA being granted by the council.
Prior to applying to study for a Higher National Diploma, Kate was assessed by Cheshire's psychology service. An official said she was of average intelligence and reading comprehension. On spelling, "...you scored at the level of an average 11 to 12-year-old. This does indicate that you have a specific learning difficulty in this area but not one which you should regard as a major handicap.
"At the career stage you have reached it makes more sense to accept that you have a continuing difficulty and to find ways of working around this than to think in terms of taking special lessons to improve your spelling. It is probable that most pieces of your extended written work will include some errors but unlikely that any intelligent reader would misunderstand what you have written."
The Ombudsman said the official had limited experience of assessing 18-year-olds, and no prior knowledge of DSAs. It was maladministration not to give guidance to the psychology service about the purpose of assessing students, particularly the availability of DSAs, including the level of disability at which one could apply for one. Moreover, if the term dyslexia had been used during her assessment she could have successfully applied to her college for additional assistance. The council now has to consider the report and tell the Ombudsman what action it intends to take.