Updated 30.10.2020 11:41

There is guidance on how tribunals, including the Special Educational Needs and Disability (“SEND”) Tribunal, are responding to the current situation with regards to COVID-19.

If you have an upcoming hearing, then you might want to keep checking this link and you can also sign up for alerts via this website. You should also take a look at our page on where to get help with making an appeal.

Remote hearings

The SEND Tribunal has been conducting all on paper or by telephone (and, where the technology permits, by video) since Monday 23 March 2020. 

The SEND Tribunal administration team will send out log in details in advance of the hearing.  These will be issued when the Notice of Hearing is issued.  Instead of a physical venue you will see dial in or video dial in details with full instructions on how to join. General guidance on joining telephone and video hearings is available .

Telephone hearings are via an 0800 number and so should be free from landline or mobile.  If a video hearing is ordered and you are concerned that your internet connection is not good enough, there will also be the option of joining via phone. The number to call should be included in the Notice of Hearing, but if it is not, contact the SEND Tribunal to find this out. If you require technical support for a telephone or video hearing you can call 0330 8089405. 

You can find further guidance on how telephone and video hearings will be used during the COVID-19 outbreak here.

This is for people attending remote hearings who want to have a third party supporting them. This could be a friend, family member or someone from a charitable or local government service.

Appeals and claims will be prioritised by the judiciary and consideration given to the use of additional approaches including triaging of cases to ensure that decisions are made proportionately.   

There may be an option to use a court venue if there is no access to a stable telephone or internet connection but you would need to check this with the SEND Tribunal administration team. 

Alternatively, you may be able to agree with the SEND Tribunal and the LA that a paper hearing (which does not require attendance of the parties or witnesses) would be appropriate.

The SEND Tribunal have asked parties not to call the Tribunal until 2 days before hearings if they haven’t heard anything as, like every public service, they are affected by staff shortages as a result of COVID-19.

In cases conducted wholly as video proceedings, the SEND Tribunal is able to direct that the proceedings be recorded. We are not aware of the SEND Tribunal routinely exercising this power and you should still take notes of proceedings for your records.

Upper Tribunal hearings

The Upper Tribunal Guidance for Users dated 16 April states that as a result of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals) Chamber ("UTAAC") in England and Wales has had to limit its administrative operations. There will be considerable delays in deciding most appeals.  The UTAAC is not holding face to face hearings at present.  Arrangements are in hand for the processing of applications for permission to appeal from the First-tier Tribunal.  Depending on the number of applications that the UTAAC receives, it may be necessary to prioritise applications relating to welfare benefits or other important rights in which case further guidance on prioritisation may be published. 

Top tips

  • Contact all your witnesses and anyone else dialling in on your behalf, in advance, to check whether they have reliable phone or internet connection. If they do not, then let the LA and the SEND Tribunal know as soon as possible.
  • If possible, try to arrange a telephone or virtual meeting before the hearing to give you, any witnesses and advocate you have the opportunity to speak before it begins.
  • If you have any late evidence, send this to the normal email address ([email protected]), with details of your hearing date, time, and appeal number. At the start of the hearing, check that this has been received by the panel. If it has not you may be able to resubmit it via email for their attention and possibly present it live by sharing your screen in the virtual hearing. If the panel agrees to you presenting late evidence in this way, minimise other windows to make sure you only share what you intend to!
  • If you or anyone else expected to dial-in has caring responsibilities (with many school children now at home, this may well be a concern) alert the LA and the Tribunal to this to discuss what accommodations might be possible.
  • If you are taking part in a hearing with the support of an advocate, speak to them in advance to agree how you will communicate with them confidentially during the hearing as necessary.
  • Try to agree a how you will communicate with the LA as necessary during any breaks in the hearing.
  • Avoid using any “chat” function on the software used for a virtual hearing for any communication that’s not intended the LA or SEND Tribunal panel have sight of.
  • Make sure you are sitting somewhere comfortable, quiet and close to charging points. It’s a good idea to aim to be ready around 15 minutes early to make sure the phone or computer you are using is charged or plugged in so technology doesn’t cause distraction or delay.
  • If you’re referring to documents in the bundle during a phone or video hearing, double check everyone has the right page as it will be trickier than in person to ensure everyone is looking at the right document.
  • Make sure you keep notes as the hearing is going on, so when it’s your turn to talk you can address things raised by others when they were talking.
  • Let the judge lead the call. Remember the hearing is still fairly formal and so you should not talk over the judge – but the SEND Tribunal will be understanding of the fact that it will be harder to know who is meant to be talking when!

As well as providing these updates the legal team also deliver live training in various areas of special educational needs law. If you would like to learn from them, take a look at our upcoming training sessions.