The Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice have announced that they will introduce a two-year national trial in England to extend SEND Tribunal powers to the health and social care sections of education, health and care (EHC) plans. This is something that we have called for since the new SEND system was introduced in 2014.

This means that from early 2018, parents and young people who are dissatisfied with any aspect of an EHC plan, and who have not been able to resolve their disagreement locally, can take their appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

The announcement follows a 15-month pilot project in 17 local authority areas in England, where the extension of Tribunal powers in this way has been tested. 

A detailed review of the pilot found that making health and social care part of the appeals process improved joint working across education, health and social care in the areas that took part. Further, it appears to act as a ‘lever’ to make it more likely that families will be offered a resolution they are happy with before their appeal goes as far as a Tribunal hearing.

While the SEND Tribunal makes decisions about education that local authorities have to follow, the Government has decided that the Tribunal will only have the power to make ‘non-binding recommendations’ on health and social care. But they make clear that, “While the First-tier Tribunal SEND’s recommendations are non-binding for health and social care partners, we would generally expect that recommendations are followed.”

The National Autistic Society made the case throughout the passage of the Children and Families Act 2014 for a single point of appeal for challenging any aspect of an EHC plan – rather than three separate routes for education, health and social care.

Tim Nicholls, Policy Manager at The National Autistic Society, said: “This will be very welcome news to families across England, and follows many months of campaigning by individuals and charities including The National Autistic Society.

“We were disappointed when the 2014 reforms to the SEND system failed to include a single point of appeal for families. This meant that parents and carers were having to appeal decisions about their child’s health and care separately to education, which was unnecessarily complex and stressful.

“This announcement of a national trial for the next two years is a step in the right direction.”