By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Nottinghamshire County Council is not meeting its targets to complete reviews of care needs for hundreds of vulnerable children.
Councillors fear the continued backlog could lead to long waits for the right care and even millions of pounds being spent on upheld complaints by the local government watchdog.
The council’s governance and ethics committee has heard only two-thirds of the 3,600 planned annual education, health and care plan reviews have concluded on time this year.
Known as ‘EHCPs’, the reviews are carried out for children and young people up to the age of 25 to work out their educational, health and social needs.
Once complete, extra support, such as occupational therapy, can be organised to meet those needs.
Local councils have a legal duty to review these plans at least every 12 months to ensure they are up-to-date.
The results and decisions must then be published and updated within eight weeks of the review taking place.
However, councillors have been told one-third of Nottinghamshire children and young people who have an EHCP have not seen their plan updated on time this year.
Staffing issues and difficulties with partner organisations were mentioned as a cause, and four new staff will be employed to clamp down on the backlog.
The authority aims to complete 80 per cent of these reviews on time by the end of the year, meaning 720 children could still face delays.
Speaking in the committee on Wednesday (March 22), a council spokesperson said: “We are currently meeting timescales about 66 per cent of the time.
“We need to improve on that and have set a target of meeting the timescale 80 per cent of the time.
“We don’t know how that compares to other authorities but it’s true to say, at the moment, we’re only meeting timescales for two-thirds of our children.”
It comes after the authority was told to pay £3,397 after it “failed to deliver all special educational needs provision” in an autistic child’s EHCP.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the council also caused an “injustice” after it “failed to send out a letter” with its plans following a review of the child’s EHCP last year.
Speaking in the meeting, councillors said the decision could be repeated unless more reviews are completed on time.
Councillor Philip Owen (Con), chairman of the committee, said: “The improvement is only up to 80 per cent, which means one in five will still not be completed within the statutory timescales.
“This is going to leave us vulnerable to ombudsman complaints on all of these and the award of compensation against us.”
If the same verdict was upheld for the two-thirds of cases not met this year, the authority would face compensation costs above £4m.
But even if the council meets its 80 per cent target, similar verdicts could cost £2.4m in upheld complaints.
Cllr Johno Lee (Con), who represents Balderton, said: “That’s a massive waste of budget from this council.
“Money would be better spent getting more officers and more workers to meet that need if you know you’re not going to meet it in the first place.”
And Cllr Michael Payne (Lab), who represents Arnold North, said: “An 80 per cent target is not good enough.
“This is a statutory requirement for people who are often in receipt of special educational needs.
“We’re going to fall foul of the exact same issues raised by the ombudsman if we don’t get to that 100 per cent.”
In response, the council spokesperson added: “Any time we don’t meet statutory timescales, we are vulnerable to a complaint.
“This is a national picture and it’s a difficult context. It would be great to say we will meet the 100 per cent timescale but we believe [80 per cent] is achievable.”