Home Education and SEN: Tribunals and Complaints


You can appeal a case at tribunal when you want to challenge the contents of the Education Health and Care Plan, and even before this if the council refuses to carry out an EHC needs assessment. You can also appeal if the council decides to cease the statement or EHCP.


The Government is trialling extending the powers of the First-tier Tribunal (SEND) to make non-binding recommendations about the health and social care aspects of Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans as part of a special educational appeal. The trial applies to local authority decisions made and EHC plans issued/amended from 3 April 2018 and will run until 31 August 2021.

In my 2016 Survey of home educating parents, I found most DON'T take their case to tribunal ("I was going to go to tribunal after the refusal to assess, but then they did agree although it still isn't done"). Of those who do go to tribunal, some say it's the only thing that works, including where it never actually reaches the tribunal ("specialist placement agreed out of court the day before the tribunal hearing"), while others say they might 'win' at tribunal but still not get the support ("been to tribunal 3 times all successful, but the judge pointed out last time they have no power to enforce so gave green light to school to ignore it".)

The family (and any witness) is able to claim travel expenses to the tribunal hearing.

Ipsea Tribunal Information

SOS-SEN! Tribunal Tips

Guidance to LAs on Preparing Tribunal Bundle from Oct 1st 2018 dealing with page limits for evidence OUTSIDE the core bundle. More information here.


https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/special-educational-needs-and-disability-tribunal-forms is the main reference page although it does not include https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-appeal-a-special-educational-needs-sen-decision-send37 which was updated in February 2019.

The deadline for making appeals or obtaining a mediation certificate is two months from the date of the letter from the local authority giving their final written decision. In most cases a mediation certificate MUST be obtained (in lieu of actual mediation). There is an additional 30 days from the date of the mediation certificate to make an appeal to SEND Tribunal

SEND Tribunal’s service is free. A contribution can be made towards any out-of-pocket expenses such as travel costs. The process of making an appeal can easily take five months or more.

After the parent has submitted the appeal form, the appeal is registered within 10 working days and the tribunal service will send a letter to parents and to the local authority with case directions setting out the various deadlines and naming a court date. The first deadline is for the Local Authority submitting its appeal response. The parent's deadline is AFTER this.

In its response the LA must say whether or not they oppose the appeal and, if they do, they need to explain why. The local authority may also apply to strike out the appeal. If the local authority misses the deadline for the initial response the tribunal has the power to bar them from taking further part in proceedings, although there is a lot of leeway as the LA is able to submit reasons for delay.

It is the LA which is responsible for collating the final bundle of evidence, rather than the tribunal service.

NB very few firms have an education contract for legal aid representation (ie covering tribunals); instead most legal aid firms have education contracts for SEN help and advice but NOT representation (eg Child Law Advice/Corams). Exceptions include Sinclairs Law for Wales and Simpson Millar (formerly Maxwell Gillott) for England. Another well-known firm is Boyes Turner (BTsen) https://www.senexpertsolicitors.co.uk/ and there is also HCB

What Parents Say

I was fortunate to get legal aid and funding through IPSEA. I won on all parts ...Monumental waste of public money, but because they were determined not to be flexible we had to do it the hard way!...It has been a nightmare. Our son has had no school place since Nov 2012. His provision outlined in his statement has not been provided since then...

I was fortunate to receive Legal Aid. I have my own disability and would not have managed without my wonderful solicitor...Needed days off work, buying a photocopier, paying an advocate, travelling to private assessment appointments and staying overnight for assessment, private Ed Psyc assessment, private speech and language and OT assessments, paying for copies of documents held by the LEA and requested under freedom of info act and phone calls...

Our son was out of school for 1 yr + 1 term after 1 year of appalling attacks in secondary school... my son was out of school for 9 months...I had my special needs child out of school for 4 and a half months...We have been through three Tribunals for my son, lost everything in the process - currently he is not in school while we are fighting the fourth Tribunal...We waited nine months for an appeal date with SENDIST during which time no education was provided and he was educated at home by his mother and carers with no help from education at all.

Morning of SENDIST Tribunal we got a phone call from the council stating they would provide the home education we had requested originally...LA tried lots of stalling, moving the dates...LEA conceded 30 minutes before the hearing because all mainstream schools which had been approached refused admission and judge would not grant another delay...

The Local Authority capitulated at 5.30 the evening before our Tribunal was due to be heard. They had not made any effort to create a case and in my opinion had deliberately pushed us to the wire!...The local authority gave in half way through the hearing which they had extended over 2 days...They actually gave in on the morning of the Tribunal in the reception of the hotel! I had paid for a barrister to come down from London and stay overnight...

We ended up home educating as the least worst option and not being able to face/fund another appeal...I felt the decision in favour of the local authority was biased. As a result, I have now decided to home school my son with little support from the local authority...

Our LA lodged an appeal for an extension the day before our hearing date and this was granted (despite them having 9 months to prepare). It is our firm view that our LA put us through all of this just to see if they could 'wear us down'...
2013 survey + analysis of tribunals

SEND Tribunal Statistics

Most SEN cases don't get as far as a hearing.

Parents might withdraw their appeal because the local authority offers a solution, or for a variety of other reasons. Alternatively the local authority might back down and concede and not contest the appeal.

Appeals which are most likely to go all the way to a tribunal hearing are 1/ those against section B and F [needs and provision], and 2/ those against section B,F and I [needs, provision and placement]. Appeals which are most likely to be withdrawn or conceded BEFORE reaching a hearing are 1/ refusal to secure an EHC needs assessment and 2/ refusal to make an EHC plan.

Relevant SEND Upper Tier Tribunal Decisions

Search Tribunal Judgments + dropdown "special educational needs" or this link

Making A Complaint

Council Complaints

All local authorities are required to have a formal complaints process. Before using the Council's formal complaints procedure you may be encouraged to try and resolve the problem informally. If this doesn't work you can request a copy of your local authority’s formal complaints procedure, or search for it on your local authority's website. You shouldn't need any more than a brief summary of your complaint at the outset, since the council may first have to decide what type of complaint it is.

If you aren't satisfied with what your council decides about your complaint, you can take it to the Local Government Ombudsman. Be aware that the Ombudsman (LGO) can usually only look at your case after the local authority's own complaints procedure has been exhausted. More

The Ombudsman is concerned with process, not with the merits of council decisions taken properly. This means that some types of dispute will come under the LGO while others will be for the SEN Tribunal. If you look at the LGO SEN decisions you will get an idea of how this works.

LGO complaints related to SEN include lack of alternative provision, and failings in children's social care.LGO SEN decisions include delay in issuing EHCP; failure to arrange alternative provision for child with SEN refusing school; failure to provide speech therapy as per statement; failure to provide education for child out of school on medical grounds; delay in providing residential placement (confusion between health education and social care over who pays)


  • covers nine general categories of dispute, from inter-agency disputes and complex cases to delays and resource issues, and offers detailed advice for resolving them
  • identifies key factors that can empower people to claim their rights and to challenge failures when they occur
  • offers advice on preparing for, attending and following up on meetings
  • sets out a series of template letters that families can use in a variety of situations

Complaining via MPs and Local Councillors

Some MPs will ask a question in parliament on your behalf (this is known as a PQ) Your MP can also write to the Chief Executive or the Director of Children's Services on your behalf, and may be able to put you in touch with the councillor who has responsibility for scrutinising Children's Services.

To find your local councillor or MP, put your postcode here (Background information here)

Some councillors may write letters on your behalf and they may also be able to suggest a local council committee or panel or other scrutiny body where you can take your concerns.

You can either go to your local councillor or to a councillor with specific responsibility for the area you are complaining about, which you should be able to find out via your council website if you look for council business/meetings/committees.

When drafting emails to councillors and MPs please be aware that these might be forwarded to the person or service you are complaining about.

To find out about the Local Offer for children and young people with special needs, click here

Link Reference

This article is http://ehe-sen.org.uk/appealscomplaints.php. The following links to other websites are contained in the article, displayed as citations to aid you in printing the document.

  1. my 2016 Survey http://edyourself.org/articles/SENsurvey.php#q25trib
  2. HCB http://www.sinclairslaw.co.uk/legal/special-educational-needs/
  3. 2013 survey + analysis of tribunals http://www.mertonmencap.org.uk/pdfs/SEND-Tribunal-Survey-Results-August2013.pdf
  4. needs, provision and placement http://edyourself.org/articles/EHCPlayout.php
  5. this link http://administrativeappeals.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//Aspx/default.aspx
  6. 11kbw SEN case law http://education11kbw.com/tag/sen/
  7. https://www.ipsea.org.uk/r-v-east-sussex-county-council-ex-parte-tandy-in-re-t-a-minor-1998-2-wlr-884 http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/1998/20.html
  8. DM and KC vs Essex County Council 2003 http://edyourself.org/articles/caselaw.pdf
  9. Upper Tribunal KM v Work and Pensions (DLA) 2014 http://administrativeappeals.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//Aspx/view.aspx?id=3754
  10. Hammersmith 2012 http://education11kbw.com/residential-placement-the-upper-tribunal-strikes-again/
  11. more on this http://administrativeappeals.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//Aspx/view.aspx?id=4603
  12. Test For Special Provision Is Normal Mainstream http://administrativeappeals.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//Aspx/view.aspx?id=3654
  13. Upper Tribunal Hammersmith and Fulham + Lancashire 2015 http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKUT/AAC/2015/523.html
  14. More on this http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKUT/AAC/2016/385.html
  15. More on this http://administrativeappeals.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//Aspx/view.aspx?id=5013
  16. LGO SEN decisions http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/education/special-educational-needs
  17. here http://edyourself.org/articles/localoffer.php