You do not need to have a lawyer to complain about a school or a local authority (LA), or for appeals and disability discrimination claims dealt with by the special educational needs and disability (SEND) Tribunal. Most parents do not have a legal representative.

Success in appeals does not depend on whether or not you (or the LA) has a representative. This is because the SEND Tribunal makes decisions based on evidence and the law, not the strength of a party’s legal support.

On our website, we have lots of information on appealing and remote SEND Tribunal hearings, including a short film on video hearings that explains how to prepare, what happens on the day and how to behave in the hearing. 

If you are thinking about judicial review, we strongly suggest that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

You may be able to get help preparing a SEND Tribunal appeal, disability discrimination claim or with making a judicial review claim from the following places.

Legal aid

If you are on a low income or receiving certain types of benefits, you may be eligible for legal aid. In some cases, a young person may qualify for legal aid in their own right. The legal aid eligibility keycard sets out details of who qualifies. In summary, you are likely to qualify if:

  • your monthly gross income is not more than £2,657 (some sources of income don’t count towards this and the figure is higher for families with more than four children) and your disposable monthly income is not more than £733 (the keycard explains what can be taken off to work out disposable income) or
  • you are in receipt of Income Support, Income-Based Job Seeker's Allowance, Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance, Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit and
  • your disposable capital (savings and property) is less than £8,000. (If you own your house, the value of the house counts as “capital”. But, the value of a mortgage can be taken off when working out your “disposable capital” so you may still qualify for legal aid. If you have capital which you can’t access, you should highlight this to the Civil Legal Aid Agency (CLAA) too.)

The type of legal aid available for a SEND Tribunal cases is known as ‘legal help’. If you are eligible for this, you can receive support from a legal professional to prepare the case and may also be able to obtain funding for any additional evidence needed (such as reports from privately instructed experts). Legal help does not cover having a representative to attend a SEND Tribunal hearing. However, in exceptional cases, a legal aid provider may be able to secure funding to represent you at a hearing.

What are the rules about the financial requirements for legal aid for foster parents and prospective adoptive parents?

What are the rules about the financial requirements for legal aid for judicial review cases?

If you think you might qualify for legal aid and want to apply, you can do this either via the Civil Legal Aid Agency (CLAA) or by contacting a legal aid provider directly. It’s really important that you do this as soon as possible:

  • To apply via the CLAA fill in this online form with details of your income. If you do qualify, you will then be put in touch with a legal aid advisor/solicitor.
    • If you are unable to fill in the form online, you can call Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4345 or book a call-back here
    • If you have difficulty speaking English, they will provide a telephone interpreter or allow a friend or family member to assist you on the call.
  • To apply via a legal aid provider directly you can search for the contact details of those local to you here.

Information, Advice and Support Services

Your local Information, Advice and Support Service (known as IASS, or SENDIASS) should be able to provide advice, help with paperwork and possibly someone to support you with an appeal. This video explains what the service does. There are minimum service standards for IASS. There is also information on the Council for Disabled Children’s website.


You can get advice from IPSEA’s free helpline lines.

This service isn’t available if you are being supported already by a solicitor or other advocate.

If you have a right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal, when you call we will also assess whether you need casework support from our Tribunal Support Service. This service does depend on the availability of our volunteers at the time your appeal is taking place, and a caseworker cannot be guaranteed.

Other charities

If you are unable to get through to us at IPSEA, there are also other charities who give advice on SEN law, such as SOS SEN and Contact.

You may be able to get advice from disability-specific charities, depending on your child’s needs; for example, the National Autistic Society and the National Deaf Children’s Society both have helplines for parents.

If you need specific advice on social care, health care or welfare benefits, Contact and the Disability Law Service are able to advise in these areas.

Other advocates 

You do not need an advocate to present your case in the SEND Tribunal. However, some parents will choose to pay an advocate, who is not a lawyer, to represent them. These advocates are unregulated. If you are thinking about finding an advocate, the Council for Disabled Children guidelines may help.