There are few things more frustrating and frightening than a school or local authority that refuses to provide the support you’re sure your child or young person needs. Sometimes schools and local authorities are helpful, but sometimes you have to appeal a decision made by the local authority. That means going to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
I'm not happy with a decision
You will have applied to your local authority for something you feel is in your child or young person's best interests – an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), say, or for the EHCP to specify placement at a particular school. If the local authority refuses, they have to include the following information:
- That you have the right to appeal.
- Information about mediation, including contact details for an independent mediator (something they should also include in their local offer.) The mediator must be someone who’s independent of both the local authority and any health commissioning groups.
If you do decide to appeal, you have the following deadlines:
- If your appeal is going straight to tribunal: within two months of the date your local authority sent you the final plan.
- If you’re trying mediation first (see below): within one month of either the date that the mediation information was given or the date a certificate was issued following mediation.
Do I have to use mediation?
Yes, it is compulsory to have a mediation certificate before you proceed to tribunal. You should first contact an independent mediator to discuss your options for mediation. You don’t have to attend a mediation session with representatives from the local authority if you don’t think the issue will be resolved but you do need to request a certificate to show you have considered mediation.
- It’s often quicker.
- It costs less than going to tribunal.
- Because it’s less formal and less final, it can be less stressful.
- It puts on record that you tried your best to avoid going to tribunal. Courts and tribunals generally don’t like cases that take up their time unnecessarily, so mediation can show that there really wasn’t any alternative.
You make your appeal to the First-Tier Health Education & Social Care Chamber, Special Educational Needs and Disability (tribunal).
The subjects you can appeal about are:
- Your local authority’s decision not to carry out an EHCP assessment or re-assessment.
- Your local authority’s decision, following an assessment, not to issue an EHCP.
- The content of an EHCP. This includes:
- The description of your child or young person's special needs.
- The special educational provision the plan specifies (for instance, if you feel your child needs a place in a special school but the local authority does not agree).
- No placement has been named.
- Your local authority’s decision not to amend an EHCP or Statement following a review or re-assessment.
- Your local authority’s decision to end an EHCP or Statement.
Who can help us?
Tribunals can be expensive and nerve-wracking, so you may want to seek advice from people with experience. Here are some good places to start:
The Ministry of Justice
The Ministry of Justice provides some useful information about appeals.
If you have a specific question, you can either:
- Call 01325 289 350
- Email email@example.com
The tribunal staff at the Ministry of Justice aren’t allowed to offer you legal advice on your case, but what they can do is help you on the administrative side.
If you need advice on how to handle your case, there are various charities:
- The first port of call should be your local Information, Advice and Support Services Network (previously called Parent Partnership Network). The IAS Service is funded by the Department for Education and is there to give advice and support to parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs. You can contact them either by:
- Calling 020 7843 1900, or
- Using the Find your local IAS Service section on their website.
If the IAS Service can’t help you, some other places where you can get free advice include:
- IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Education Advice): This is a national charity offering free legally based advice to families of children with special educational needs. All advice is given by trained volunteers.
- SOS! SEN: They offer a free, independent and confidential telephone helpline for parents and others looking for information and advice on special educational needs.
Legal Aid can offer public funding for some people on benefits or a low income seeking lawyers to represent them. To find out whether you’re eligible, the place to start is the GOV.UK website.
Your own wellbeing
Tribunal is a demanding process that can leave you feeling exhausted (and sometimes much poorer than when you started) even if you win. If you have to go down that road, try to make sure you get some support for yourself, whether it’s friends and family or talking to a charity like Samaritans or Family Lives – someone who may not be able to offer you legal advice, but who can offer you sympathy if you need to let off some steam.
If you could do with some support or advice from people going through the same thing as you, join our online forum, Talk about Autism.