LGO attacks council over education of teenager with severe disabilities

The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised a local authority after a teenager with severe disabilities was denied a place at a specialist college because council officers failed to follow the proper procedure.

A charity has paid for the education of the young man (S), but his family have been told that this funding could be removed at any time.

The family complained to the Ombudsman that officers at Devon County Council failed to consider relevant information when they decided where S should attend post-16 education.

The boy, who uses a wheelchair, applied to study at a local college and also at an out-of-area specialist college. He initially told his caseworkers that he would prefer to study locally.

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However, he subsequently changed his mind. Devon reviewed the teenager’s options, but decided not to fund the placement at the specialist college. 

According to the LGO, this decision “was taken without taking into consideration all the relevant information, including his welfare and social care needs”. 

The report also said that the Joint County Agency Panel did not consider an up-to-date occupational therapy assessment. A subsequent assessment queried the extent to which the local college could make suitable adjustments for the teenager’s needs.

To remedy the injustice caused the LGO recommended that:

  • The Panel reconsider supporting S’s current placement at college Y taking into account S’s preference, up-to-date and robust social care and health related reports, an up-to-date Education, Health and Care Plan or Learning Difficulty Assessment “and any other information which the council considers relevant to the decision”;
  • The council send a written apology to S and his mother for fault in the way the decision was made;
  • The council pay S £500 for distress associated with the uncertainty that the decision was properly made;
  • The council pay his mother £500 for her time and trouble in making the complaint on behalf of S and for distress associated with uncertainty that the decision was properly made; and
  • The council commission an external investigation of the social care background to the complaint and report back to the LGO on the findings at completion.

Devon has agreed to take the above action within two months of receiving the Ombudsman’s report.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “Devon County Council should have looked at the entirety of this boy’s needs and not just at his education in isolation.

“Officers failed to consider his health and welfare and failed to comply with their own policy on how a placement decision is made."

She added: “A charity stepped in to fund the placement, but because of the uncertainty of how long this funding would last, the family have been left with the uncertainty over how long the teenager would be able to stay at his new college.”

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