23 February 2024

We hear all the time that education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments are taking too long to complete, meaning that children and young people are waiting far longer for the support they need than the law says they should. The reason often given is that there aren’t enough educational psychologists (EPs) and other professionals employed by local authorities and local health services, resulting in long waiting lists. 

Nonetheless, the law is clear and hasn’t changed. A local authority must obtain information and advice on needs, provision and outcomes from a range of people during an EHC needs assessment. This includes getting advice and information from an EP. They are under a legal duty to provide this information to the LA within six weeks of the LA’s request, subject to a few minor exceptions. Resource pressures is not one of those exceptions.

The LA must make sure it has gathered all the legally required information in good time, so it can meet its legal duties.

  • If no EHC plan is going to be issued following the EHC needs assessment, the LA must tell the parent or the young person within a maximum of 16 weeks from the date of the request for assessment.
  • If an EHC plan is to be issued after the EHC needs assessment, then the final plan needs to be issued within a maximum of 20 weeks from the date of the request for the assessment.

Again there are a few minor exceptions to these deadlines, but resource issues is not one of them. These are hard edged legal duties and LAs must comply with them. That may mean finding other ways to get the EP advice, for example seeking advice from an independent EP rather than one employed by the LA.

The courts and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) have both looked at this issue recently, and both were clear that while LAs are facing increased demand for EHC needs assessments leading to a resourcing issue crisis, this does not mean LAs are relieved of their legal duties.

The current crisis has not come out of nowhere. As the LGSCO recognises, it’s been 10 years in the making due to poor planning.  A lack of cooperation and integrated services between education, health and social care colleagues has exacerbated the problem too.

The law must be applied and where LAs fail to meet their legal obligations, the courts and the LGSCO will find fault.

Children and young people with SEND don’t have time to wait. If your child or young person’s EHC needs assessment is taking too long, you can take action.


About the author

As a member of the legal team, Kate provides legal support to volunteers and supervises their helpline and Tribunal Support Service work. She also writes monthly updates for the volunteers, ensuring they are kept up to date with legal and policy changes. She helps maintain IPSEA’s legal resources and briefings, and provides training to parents, carers and professionals. Kate also supports the policy team in their work. In her spare time, Kate loves to have her nose in a new book, get outside and exercise, and play with her two sons.

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