The First-tier Tribunal (SEN and Disability)
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (the SEND Tribunal) forms part of the First-tier Tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber). Tribunals are overseen by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.
The role and function of the Tribunal
The SEND Tribunal hears appeals against decisions made by the local authorities in England in relation to children's and young people’s assessments and Education, Health and Care plans. It also hears disability discrimination claims against schools and against LAs when carrying out some of their education functions.
The Tribunal seeks to ensure that the process of appealing is as user-friendly as possible, and to avoid hearings that are overly legalistic or technical. It has always been the Tribunal’s aim to ensure that a parent or young person should not need to engage legal representation when appealing a decision.
Who can appeal to the Tribunal about EHC assessments and plans
Parents and young people (over compulsory school age until the end of the academic year in which they reach age 25), can appeal to the SEND Tribunal about EHC assessments and EHC plans, following contact with a mediation adviser in most cases (see Mediation).
What parents and young people can appeal about
Parents and young people can appeal to the Tribunal about:
• a decision by a local authority not to carry out an EHC needs assessment or re-assessment;
• a decision by a local authority that it is not necessary to issue an EHC plan following an assessment;
• the description of a child or young person’s SEN specified in a plan, the special educational provision specified, the school or other institution or type of school or other institution (such as mainstream school/college) specified in the plan or that no school or other institution is specified;
• an amendment to these elements of the plan;
• a decision by a local authority not to amend an EHC plan following a review or re-assessment;
• a decision by a local authority to cease to maintain a plan.
Routes of redress for parents and young people who are unhappy with decisions about health and social care set out in EHC plans are through health and social care complaints procedures.
Conditions related to appeals
The following conditions apply to appeals:
• the parent or young person can appeal to the Tribunal when the EHC plan is initially finalised, following an amendment or a replacement of the plan;
• appeals must be registered with the Tribunal within two months of the local authority sending a notice to the parent or young person of the decision about one of the matters that can be appealed to the Tribunal or within one month of a certificate being issued following mediation;
• the right to appeal a refusal of an assessment will only be triggered where the local authority has not carried out an assessment in the previous six months;
• when the parent or young person is appealing about a decision to cease to maintain the plan the local authority has to maintain the plan until the Tribunal’s decision is made.
Decisions the Tribunal can make
The Tribunal has prescribed powers under the Children and Families Bill to make certain decisions in relation to appeals. The Tribunal can dismiss the appeal, order the local authority to carry out an assessment, or to make and maintain a plan, or to maintain a plan with amendments. The Tribunal can also order the LA to reconsider or correct a weakness in the plan. Local authorities have time limits within which to comply with decisions of the Tribunal.
Disability discrimination claims
The parents of disabled children and disabled young people in school have the right to make disability discrimination claims to the First-tier Tribunal (SEND) if they feel their children or the young people themselves have been discriminated against by schools or local authorities when carrying out some of their education functions. Claims must be made within six months of the alleged instance of discrimination. The parents of disabled children, on behalf of their children, and disabled young people in school can make a claim against any school about alleged discrimination in the matters of exclusions, the provision of education and associated services and the making of reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services. They can also make claims to the Tribunal about admissions to independent and non-maintained special schools and most academies. Claims about admissions to maintained schools are made to local admissions panels.
Disability discrimination claims by young people against post-16 institutions, and by parents about early years provision and about their treatment as a parent in being provided with an education service for their child, are made to the county courts.
Guidance on how to make a disability discrimination claim to the Tribunal is available at the Ministry of Justice website
How to appeal
When appealing to the Tribunal parents and young people should identify the decision that they are appealing against and the date when the local authority’s decision was made. The parent or young person who is appealing (the appellant) will be required to give the reasons why they are appealing. The reasons do not have to be lengthy or written in legal language but should explain why the appellant disagrees with the decision. If there is any information or evidence which supports the appeal, the appellant should include it when they submit their appeal form.
When the appeal is registered with the Tribunal a copy will be sent to the local authority. The local authority will also receive details of the time limits for sending documents or providing details of witnesses; these will apply to all parties. Once the appellant’s case is fully prepared they will receive a date for the hearing. Hearings are heard throughout the country at Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service buildings. The Tribunal will try to hold hearings as close to where the appellant lives as possible. Appeals are heard by a judge and a panel of Tribunal members who have been appointed because of their knowledge and experience of children with SEN and disabilities.
Timescales following the hearing
Both the young person or parent making the appeal and the local authority should receive a copy of the Tribunal's decision and reasons by post within 10 working days of the hearing. Along with the decision notice the Tribunal will send a leaflet which will explain the application process for permission to appeal the Tribunal decision to the Upper Tribunal, if the appellant considers that the decision made was wrong in law or based on an error in fact.
Step-by-step guidance on the process of appealing to the Tribunal and what it involves can be found at the Ministry of Justice’s website.