Why the end of LDAs should be celebrated

The High Court has issued a decision in a Judicial Review application in a case which is potentially one of the last of its kind. The case is R (Smieja by her father & litigation friend Smieja) v Bexley LBC [2014] EWHC 4113 (Admin). The case is not yet available on a free case search engine.

The facts

The young person was 19 years old. Prior to turning 19 they were supported by a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN). By operation of law, the child’s Statement of SEN came to an end when they reached 19 years. As a result, they were moved onto a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA).

During the process of the preparation of the LDA it was recommended that the young person by placed at Fortune Riding Therapy Centre (Fortune). This is a placement, with residential capacity, which enables therapies and teaching through caring for horses. Fortune was named in the LDA.

After the publication of the LDA, a local authority placement approval panel disagreed with the placement at Fortune on the basis that they felt that the young person would not be able to apply life-skills learnt out of borough. The reasoning behind this seems fairly dubious. The local authority’s alternative was a cocktail of various in-borough education, social care and other provisions.

What the case decided

The High Court was asked to consider whether the local authority’s refusal to fund a placement at Fortune was lawful.

Those acting for the child argued, in summary, that the LDA surely must represent what the young person could reasonable expect to receive. The local authority’s refusal to fund the placement which was in the LDA was unlawful, unfair, irrational or procedurally wrong.

The High Court concluded that there was no statutory power to enforce the LDA and that whilst the local authority’s decision was not in accordance with the LDA, the decision was not utterly ridiculous, nor was it made without a proper consultation. As such, the High Court refused to enforce the LDA.

Why is this relevant?

The case highlights how weak LDAs actually are. This is, hopefully, one of the last cases we will see LDAs.

The Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 1 September 2014. One of the many changes it made was to remove LDAs and harmonise support for children and young people from 0-25 within one document, an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

The EHCP is legally binding in all respects. The education element and the health element are enforceable by way of the Children and Families Act 2014 and the social care element via Children Act 1989 and/or Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

Young people currently being supported by an LDA must, at the latest, go through the transition process to an EHCP by 31 August 2016.

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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