Parents in High Court battle with Surrey Council over special needs funding cuts

Posted on: 2018-10-03 07:00:00

Parents are taking legal action against Surrey County Council over cuts to special needs funding
Parents are taking legal action against Surrey County Council over cuts to special needs funding ( Getty )

A legal battle between parents and Surrey County Council over its plans to cut its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget by more than £20m has opened at the High Court in London. 

The families of five children with SEND are claiming that affected families were not consulted by the council, which they said did not identify the impact cuts would have before making the decision.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled that Bristol City Council had acted illegally when it cut £5m from its SEND budget after parents took legal action.  

After that landmark ruling, a group of parents has now launched a national crowdfunding campaign to take legal action against the government over cuts to special needs funding.

Lawyers at the judicial review against Surrey Council – which is due to conclude later this week – are acting on behalf of two teenagers with autism spectrum disorder, two children with autism, and a four-year-old with a neuromuscular condition that affects his mobility and feeding.

The budget in question helps support children with SEN in Surrey by funding a range of services - including transport to mainstream schools.

Sarah Jones, is bringing the case on behalf of her four-year-old son Kyffin Carpenter, who communicates mostly through sign language.

She said: "I think there's a real strength of feeling among families in Surrey about the need for them (the council) to actually improve their provision for children with special educational needs.

"So when we heard that they were actually planning to make savings of £21m, that provoked a strong reaction amongst lots of families.

"My son has just started at a mainstream school and he has got quite a lot of support needs. I don't want it to get harder for kids to be included in mainstream schools."

Alicia McColl, whose 14-year-old son Kian Hollow is another of the claimants, with a range of needs including autistic spectrum disorder, said children would suffer if crucial support was withdrawn.

She said: "Inability to communicate leads to behavioural issues, social issues and exclusion."

Both women said they and two other mothers - Debbie Butler and Catriona Ferris - were bringing the case on behalf of families across the UK who were facing difficulties because of cuts to support budgets.

Anne-Marie Irwin, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the families, said: “The proposed cuts would impact significantly on some of the most vulnerable members of society. The parents have been left with little choice to bring this judicial review, as despite repeated pleas, the local authority has failed to enter into meaningful talks with them to find a solution which addresses their concerns.

“We appreciate that these are difficult times for local government but cuts of this nature would only serve to create huge difficulty for disabled children and their families.”

A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: “We are defending this claim but as ever our main focus is making sure children get the support that they need.”

A group of parents from Hackney in London is bringing a similar case at the end of this month.

Eleanor Busby, Education Correspondent

Source: Independent

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