Families To Step Up Fight To Safeguard SEND Budgets
Families are to step up their fight against a council’s plans to cut £20 million from services for disabled children after the High Court granted them permission to challenge the lawfulness of that decision.
Specialist lawyers from Irwin Mitchell, acting on behalf of parents, will now have their case against Surrey County Council’s plans to reduce its schools and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget heard in full.
Expert OpinionWe have said all along that the county council has misunderstood its legal obligations and failed to lawfully consult with some of the most vulnerable members of society who will be adversely affected by these proposals.
“We are pleased that the High Court has recognised the need for a full legal review of the county council’s plans to be held. However, despite this we would once again urge the local authority to reconsider its decision and enter into constructive dialogue with the families on how best to find a solution. We appreciate the severe financial burdens that public services face but this issue will not go away.” Anne-Marie Irwin - Senior Associate Solicitor
Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law and Human Rights team, which has successfully challenged other cuts to local authority budgets across the country, has said Surrey’s plans are unlawful because the local authority did not undertake a consultation with affected families.
It has also raised concerns that when the council made the decision it had not identified which special educational needs and disability services it would target to cut funding. This raises the question of whether officers who drew up the proposals had any idea as to where potential savings could be made and so how this would impact families.
Surrey County Council intends to reduce its schools and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budgets by over £20 million. They fund services such as school transport and provisions for children with special educational needs to stay in mainstream schools.
The local authority has admitted that there are now 7,700 children in Surrey requiring education, health and care plans, an increase of 44 per cent over the last eight years and that the last two years have seen increases in the population of children with complex SEN of 19 per cent and 13 per cent, while there was a seven per cent reduction in funding per pupil over the same period.
A two day judicial review is now expected to be held later this summer at a date to be confirmed.
Irwin Mitchell has been instructed to act on behalf of five children – Kian Hollow, Dominic Ferris, Zoe and Sean Butler and Kyffin Carpenter.
Kian, 14, has Autistic Spectrum Disorder, ADHD anxiety and speech and language difficulties for which he receives specialist therapy sessions.
Kian, who lives in Farnham, relies on council-funded transport to take him to school in Roehampton because his mum Alicia, 44, who also has a 12-year-old daughter Bella, and son, Edoardo, 20, works full-time as a Project Management Officer.
Zoe, 14, and Sean, 12, from Guildford, have both been diagnosed with autism, and attend schools which are 21 miles apart. Zoe boards at Limpsfield Grange in Oxted while her brother relies on daily transport to take him to the council-maintained Linden Bridge, in Worcester Park. Their mum is Debbie Butler, 42.
Kyffin, from Sunbury, has a rare neuromuscular condition which affects his mobility, feeding and he communicates via signing. The three-year-old requires one to one support when attending White Lodge Nursery in Chertsey. His mum is Sarah Jones.
Dominic Ferris, 14, has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum disorder with traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance. He is supported at his specialist school by a mentor who works with him to reduce his severe anxiety levels. Dominic relies on council funded transport to take him to his school in Roehampton, where he has benefitted immensely from services and provisions such as tailored curriculums and as a result he has been able to access mainstream after-school activities such as Explorer Scouts and Cadence Marching Band. His mum is Catriona Ferris.
Irwin Mitchell has instructed specialist barristers Jenni Richards QC of 39 Essex Chambers and Stephen Broach from Monckton Chambers to advise on the case.
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