What happens when a Local Authority cuts funding half way through a course

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The case of R (C) v Westminster City Council (2015) has just been reported. Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate the case on free databases and, as yet, have not received the full citation.

The case concerns a judicial review of a decision to remove funding for a course before a young person had completed it.

What happened?

The young person in question was 21 at the time of the case being heard. The young person had been supported by a Statement of Special Educational Needs. Before he turned 19, the young person’s parents sought a placement in a residential college for him. The college offered the young person a three-year placement on what was normally be a two-year course. The extra year was needed as a result of the young person’s special educational needs.

The local authority agreed to fund three years at the college within a covering letter sent with the Statement.

After two years, the college determined that the young person had completed the academic element of the course, so the third year would focus on other areas of education including social skills and self-care.  The college also suggested that a further two-years of support would be appropriate and requested funding from the local authority.

The local authority sent a psychologist to the college who concluded that the young person needed small group teaching, a quiet environment and life skills courses. The report did not comment about the need for a residential placement.

The local authority decided to refuse funding for the further two years. It also decided to cut funding for the placement with immediate effect, stating that a local college could support the young person.

What has the court said?

The young person’s parents challenged the decision by judicial review.

The challenge was because the local authority had committed to three years of funding. The young person had only attended for two years and so the local authority had gone against its agreement. This is described as a breach of legitimate expectation.

The court found that the local authority had gone against a legitimate expectation. The local authority had set out clearly in its letter confirming funding, that the funding was for three years. That led to a legitimate expectation.

The court set out some helpful factors to consider in such cases:

  • The number of people affected by the decision
  • Whether there were wide-ranging issues
  • The importance of what was promised
  • What the consequences of being bound to the expectation would be
  • Whether there is any overriding issue which could possibly justify the failure to comply with the expectation

The court found that as only the young person was affected by the issue, that there were no wide-ranging issued, that the decision was significant to the young person (who was the only person involved) and that the only consequences were financial, there was no reason that the local authority should not be bound by the expectation.

What does this mean?

This is important because it means that if a local authority agrees to a particular course of action in a letter, separate to a Statement or Education Health and Care Plan, it could still be bound by it.

The Education Act and Children and Families Act make Statements and EHCPs legally binding, respectively. What this case confirms is that anything said outside of the content of Statements or EHCPs can also be relied upon.

As such, it is very important to keep track of all agreements in writing and make sure copies of such letters are kept very safe.

I am so happy at the outcome, I don't think we would have had such a comprehensive service from any other law firm, and you took the worry away...I do not regret a single second of the whole process, apart from the bit before you got involved. 

James' mother, Boyes Turner client

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