National Ombudsmen
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Standing in the way of support – Ombudsman finds councils not doing enough to offer choice for parents

Too often parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not being given a choice in how their children are supported because their local councils do not fully understand the personal budget process.

Designed to give choice and control to parents, personal budgets can be allocated to children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for their parents to arrange the support they need, instead of their local authorities arranging this directly.

But the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is finding common problems in how councils administer these budgets. In many local authority areas there is simply a lack of information available to parents that these budgets are even an option.

Throughout the report, there are examples of councils not fully understanding the personal budget process, leading to one council failing to recognise a parent’s request for funding as one for a personal budget. In another there were lengthy delays by the council while it considered a parent’s request and in another, there were lengthy delays before it made the payments requested.

Among all this confusion are young people with significant needs waiting for the support they are entitled to – children missing considerable amounts of school, missing specialist tutors or behavioural support – or parents being left significantly out of pocket, struggling to fund provision which should already have been in place.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Parents are often best placed to understand their children’s needs. The use of personal budgets should allow councils and parents to act as equal partners to determine the support needed and how this is funded, but without this in place, parents can often feel left at the mercy of a system where systemic problems are compounded by a lack of understanding by those in power.

“The problems we uncover in our investigations about personal budgets is yet another facet of evidence that demonstrates just how fractured the system is for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. 

“Our evidence across the board suggests the system is in crisis. The Government has come up with proposals to improve the system, and it now needs to progress urgently with the reforms it has pledged to make in this year’s improvement plan.

“I would also urge council leaders to reflect on the practical learning the report offers to ensure parents in their areas are given the freedom to choose how their children are supported.”

Downloads :  Focus report - Personal Budgets - November 2023 (1.5MB)

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