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"Review needs to tackle the huge rise in SEND tribunal hearings" warns LGA

NEW research commissioned by the Local Government Association suggests that landmark reforms designed to improve the lives of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have failed to prevent a huge rise in legal disputes and tribunal hearings over the support they receive, which is symptomatic of fundamental imbalances in the SEND system. Councils share the ambition of the Government's SEND reforms in 2014 under the Children and Families Act to reduce the need for parents to have to fight to get support. However, a new study commissioned by the LGA:- 'Agreeing to disagree? Research into arrangements for avoiding disagreements and resolving disputes in the SEND system in England,' has found that these aspirations have not been achieved due to the soaring level of cases that are not resolved without being taken to a tribunal. It comes Councils increasingly struggle with a lack of funding to meet significantly increased demand for SEND support. The LGA, which represents Councils across England, is calling on the Government to urgently address this in its forthcoming review of the SEND system, so parents and carers avoid having to take cases to tribunal. The new LGA report warns the SEND system has instead become more adversarial, with new figures in the report showing:-

The number of appeals to tribunals over SEND disagreements has more than doubled since the reforms, rising by 111% between 2013/14 and 2020/21.

Over 9 in 10 appeals are decided in favour of families, overturning the original decision made by Councils. Prior to the reforms, 83% of tribunal appeals were made in favour of the appellant.

Before the reforms in 2013/14, more disagreements were resolved before they got to a formal tribunal hearing with around 21% of appeals decided at a tribunal, whereas now the figure is 64%.

The proportion of decisions appealed has gone up from 1.16% at the time of the reforms to 1.74% in 2020.

The research found that the main factor behind the rise in the number and rate of appeals was not Councils failing to meet their legal duties under the Act, but instead was reflective of deeper, fundamental problems that need to be addressed within the SEND system. The report also raises concerns about a growth in unregulated organisations encouraging and advising families to appeal. It found most Councils reported that tribunal appeals are more likely to come from more affluent families, and less likely from those from more deprived backgrounds, highlighting a potential lack of equity of access to dispute resolution. While Councils fully recognise the right of families to take appeals to tribunals, the LGA says the huge number of cases is indicative of fundamental imbalances in the SEND system.

The LGA is calling on the Government to use the SEND review, that was announced in 2019, to significantly reduce the need for such a high number of cases to be taken to taken to tribunal, by making fundamental changes to the SEND system. This could involve providing greater clarity around the level of need that would require SEND support; making mainstream education settings more accountable for SEND inclusion, and enabling decisions over SEND provision to be made jointly by all those responsible, such as health and care bodies, and not just Councils. While the Government recently announced much needed funding for SEND support services, which will be vital to ensure support can be provided, this alone will not fix the underlying flaws within the system.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:- "It is vital the Government's SEND review urgently tackles the increasingly adversarial nature of the SEND system since the 2014 reforms and minimises the need for legal disputes and tribunal hearings, providing the support that every young person and their family needs. Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and receives the best possible support, and Councils do everything they can to achieve this, within the budgets made available by the Government. However, the soaring number of tribunal hearings over the SEND support provided to a young person, and the overwhelming number decided in the appellant's favour, is indicative of a system that is not working. The SEND reforms introduced in 2014, while of the very best intentions, have unfortunately not delivered. The factors that are driving these trends are symptomatic of challenges within the wider SEND system. This must be addressed in the forthcoming SEND review."¯

Pandemic prompts house price surge in the North, but more affordable homes are needed

ACCORDING to research from Lloyds Banking Group, the Pandemic has prompted a surge in house prices in the North, climbing by 17.3% since the since the Pandemic. However, this increased demand and lack of affordable housing has resulted in nearly ⅔ of those living in the North (60%) agreeing that the housing market is currently not helping people access affordable and quality homes in their Region.

Top concerns amongst those in the North include:- unaffordable house prices (60%), lack of social housing being built (47%) and high deposits (43%). Other considerations include a lack of rental properties (38%), too few houses being built (27%) and economic issues caused by the Pandemic (26%).

Across the North, both homeowners and renters agree that house prices are the biggest issue facing the market and are sceptical that the industry can deliver the affordable, quality homes needed to accommodate the increased demand in the area Post Pandemic.

With the average house price now at almost ₤230,000, those in North believe issues around affordability are likely to get worse with 57% believing house prices will continue to spike over the next 3 years.

Beyond affordability, many respondents suggested that new homes in their local area aren't being built in places where people want to live (34%) "with nearly half of those in the North (45%) frustrated that new homes aren't meeting the needs of the local area.

Emily Cox, Lloyds Banking Group's Ambassador for the North, said:- "House prices and transaction volumes, even among 1st time buyers, have grown significantly during the Pandemic. However, this research also shows that many people in the North consider the continued strength of prices as the biggest factor preventing people from accessing quality and affordable homes. At the same time the Pandemic is reshaping what we want from our homes, but many people in the North feel that currently where, and how, homes are being built is not meeting the needs of their local communities. Understanding these local trends, will be vitally important in ensuring the homes being built keep pace with the changing needs of individuals and local communities. That's why, as part of our commitment to help Britain prosper, we are working across the industry to collectively work out how we deliver the high quality, sustainable and affordable homes that the North needs."¯

Over the last year, there has been increased interest in the Region as home working buyers and renters look to spend lockdown savings in more rural commuter areas, with many transactions focused on living in an attractive area by 47%, good transport links by 45% and living near family and friends, 44%.

However, when it comes to our homes themselves, a large garden and more space looks set to be 1 of the most important factors driving buying decisions in the North over the next few years. The garden was deemed the most important feature; 41% stating they would prioritise that 1st, followed by more living space (36%) and more efficient heating (31%). In fact, 35% of Northerners said they would pay more than they would otherwise for a home with a garden and 32% off street parking.

John Barnes, CEO of award winning house builder Duchy Homes, said:- "Duchy Homes started out as a premium house builder focused on small, exclusive developments of large 5 bedroom homes. In more recent years, through our partnership with the Housing Growth Partnership, we have been able to purchase much larger sites and build in greater volumes. This shift in direction has meant we are now able to provide more 2 bed, 3 bed and 4 bed homes to the market, without losing our focus on quality, which has opened up our brand to a much wider audience of homebuyers. We've seen increased demand for our new homes over the last 18 months and are continuing to purchase more land and secure planning permission for large sites across the North of England, including our upcoming development of 163 plots at Elwick, Hartlepool."¯


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