Lambeth Council has spent £58,391 in disputes with parents over their children’s SEND school care plans since 2016/17 – and managed to settle most before going to court.

Rising numbers of parents are contesting their children’s education health and care plans (EHCP) or statements, in which the schools assess the special educational needs and disabilities of pupils.

Many feel the plans downplay the level of disability, leaving their children without access to the care they need, be that a special needs school, or extra facilities in mainstream schools.

Councils are under severe financial pressure due to central Government cuts, while the number of SEND pupils is increasing year on year.

The Times reported earlier this year that since 2015, councils have spent £100 million fighting parents in tribunals, but have lost nine out of ten cases.

Lambeth spent £4,327 in 2016/17, £39,781 in 2017/18 and £14,283 to date in 2018/19 on 108 appeals – it won six appeals that went to tribunal, while parents won five.

The majority of the rest were settled or conceded, where an agreement was reached by both parties, with some withdrawn or dismissed.

By comparison, Southwark Council spent more than half a million in the same period on 218 appeals.

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: “We are determined to ensure a child’s needs are met, while at the same time ensuring that public resources are being efficiently used.

“Where requests are greater than professionally-assessed need we will challenge them, while always making sure appropriate support is put in place.

“We have worked incredibly hard to reduce the percentage of tribunal cases which has fallen every year since 2014.

“Our numbers are lower than the inner London average and in line with national figures. A significant number are resolved through mediation or withdrawn.”

There has been a significant rise in appeals since sweeping reforms in 2014, which sought to give parents more of a say in the welfare of their children and put “young people at the heart of the system”. 

But a report from The Commons Education Select Committee in October said the reforms had been poorly implemented, leaving “families facing a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion”. 

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, chair of the committee, called for “radical changes” following an 18-month investigation. 

He said: “Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day. 

“Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support. 

“Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision. 

“A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.” 

The committee recommended a more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, “with clear consequences for failure”. 

It suggested a direct line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education “where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law”.