So, my friend Lucy and her husband recently went to tribunal and the games and shenanigans from the Local Authority (LA) were quite something. We thought you should all know about them – forewarned is forearmed so they say! Just so you know – I have no legal training so do check out facts with those that have – these are reflections from a lay person on the non-official side of stuff – the nasty goings on… that do actually go on.
Lucy’s son had been largely out of school for a year. The LA had been involved in this review of his Education, Health and Care Plan since 8 months previously. It was 6 months since mediation and more 3 months since the date for tribunal had been issued. There was plenty of notice for everyone to gather their information so that it could be presented to the judge and panel…
“Evidence Deadline” 5 weeks before tribunal: what should happen
Both the LA and the parents should submit all of their evidence before 12 midday.
5 weeks before tribunal: what actually happened
After months of exhausting work preparing to go to tribunal every spare second she had, and after a very scary morning where the information wouldn’t send from her computer (after all, she doesn’t have access to an admin team, an IT team or a legal team) Lucy managed to ensure that the copious volumes of evidence she had sourced and arranged herself arrived at the tribunal service with minutes to spare. Phew.
She sat and waited….
Then, oddly, she received 2 emails from 2 different people (Thing 1 and Thing 2) from the LA. Thing 1 wanted Lucy and her husband to agree the submission of late information – a Child and Family assessment (C&F). Thing 2 wanted them to agree to the late submission of an educational psychologist (EP) report and costings for one of the schools.
Now here’s the thing.
- A C&F had been carried out 6 months earlier. Lucy had submitted it as evidence’ in-fact. It seems that he LA staff didn’t like it so 3 months later a second social worker had become involved and then decided they would do one too. This social worker hadn’t managed to complete it in time, it seems – or maybe they wanted to see the parent’s evidence before they completed it?
- Strangely there was an EP report available from 12 months ago that had been updated after mediation 6 months ago – perhaps the LA didn’t like those either? Even though their own EP wrote them? My friend had also included these in her evidence. She felt that there was no need for a third EP assessment.
- Lucy had submitted the costings that the LA was missing.
Lucy responded to the LA on this very same ‘evidence deadline day’ with a letter to point these facts out and stated clearly that she saw no need for the late evidence to be submitted.
Thing 1 emailed the next day with a vague statement about late information and to say that the EP report was not to assess her son – but the LA preferred school’s suitability.
Really? 6 months not long enough to assess your own school? Lucy replied to say that her answer to this had already been submitted and suggested that it was now the duty to forward both the request and Lucy’s reply to the tribunal service so that a decision could be made. Thing 1 then sent another email saying that she had done just that. Guess what? She hadn’t. Oddly, Thing 2 sent the late evidence request to the tribunal service, minus Lucy’s carefully constructed letter, and instead, the words ‘parents think that tribunal should decide’.
The games were just beginning.
Lucy emailed to ask if a copy of her letter had been sent to the tribunal. Thing 1 replied with “Yes that’s right I have sent them the email trail so they can see what you have said”. Very slippery. So the email trail to Thing 2 (that didn’t include the letter) was sent to the tribunal but not the correspondence to Thing 1 that included the vital letter.
Bizarrely attached to Thing 1’s email was a screenshot of Thing 3’s email. Who does that?
Lesson learned: Always copy in the tribunal service to everything yourself.
Six days later Thing 3 sent Lucy a rather snotty email about late evidence. She claimed to be puzzled by the fact that Lucy (having worked like a slave for months, and her son having no support, education or assessments during this time) might not want crappy late information submitted AFTER they had had time to read her evidence. Really? Lucy received a further 2 emails about late evidence in the next 24 hours.
Lesson learned: Keep a timeline so that these subtle ploys can be properly noted and taken to the tribunal service on the day. Lucy did and found it to be a useful reference. See here for tips.
“Delivery of the bundle” 4 weeks before the tribunal: what should happen.
The LA should compile both sets of evidence submitted the previous week into a bundle and ensure that this is delivered to both the tribunal and the parents before 12 midday. It goes without saying, of course, that missing out parental evidence and slipping in extra of their own is not allowed…
4 weeks before the tribunal: what actually happened.
Lucy sat and waited…
and then phoned the tribunal service. It turns out that the LA had sent them the bundle but not copied in Lucy and her husband. The clerk at the tribunal service kindly forwarded Lucy a copy of the bundle; which really should just have been a copy of Lucy’s evidence: remember the LA didn’t submit anything.
As it happened, the bundle:
- had an extra piece of evidence ‘slipped in’
- had muddled up Lucy’s evidence, making it hard to follow,
- had taken apart her 40 page timeline and
- attached the first three pages to a school report and 2
- not included the other 37 pages that included copies of medical letters.
- omitted completely another critical piece of evidence.
Lesson learned: check the bundle very, very, carefully.
This was just 8 days into the 5 week countdown from evidence submission to Tribunal day and there was yet more correspondence about, and submissions of, late evidence to come. This time it was about the ‘costings’ for their own school.
The ‘costings’ for their own school was in-fact a report by their EP about the LA preferred school; clearly written with Lucy’s evidence (submitted on time 8 days ago, of course) in mind. Nice.
Lesson learned: You need to pace yourself and brace yourself. Manage your anxiety responses so that you don’t become overwhelmed with adrenaline with each email and call (see here for some tips on this).
Meanwhile, the second C&F assessment that was being undertaken by the social worker (remember they didn’t seem to like their first one 6 months earlier) was due in. Lucy wanted assurance that it would be shared with her, before anyone else, and the social worker assured her by email that it wouldn’t be shared before she saw it. This wasn’t the case of course. Two weeks before the tribunal the C&F was submitted to the tribunal service (and others) and Lucy was copied in. This was the first chance she had to see it. It goes without saying that there had been no approval for the submission of this late evidence either.
A week later the Judge ordered that appeals to the tribunal should be carried out with evidence available and that late evidence is only accepted in exceptional circumstance and with the agreement of the other party… bring 5 copies on the day if you really must…
Bizarrely, 5 days before the Tribunal date and regardless of the Judge’s instructions, the LA posted a whole new bundle to Lucy and her husband and the tribunal service. The new bundle contained their late evidence, their ‘secretly slipped in’ evidence, omitted 2 very large sections of Lucy’s evidence and muddled copies of other parts of the parental evidence.
Again Lucy had a helpful conversation with the clerk from the tribunal service.
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid of contacting the clerk at the tribunal service regularly throughout the process. They seem to be objective, supportive and fair. They will help to guide you through the process and their calmness will steady your nerves!
During this 5 week period, the LA is supposed to work with the parents to agree as much as possible the contents of the Education Health and Care Plan. The idea, I believe, is to maximise what is done on this ‘working document’ outside of the tribunal setting. Despite doing a huge amount of work on the working document and submitting it on time 5 weeks previously, Lucy heard a big fat nothing on this from the LA.
So, in summary, the Local Authority:
- submitted nothing at the time of the evidence deadline;
- sent many emails from different sources about a bizarre collection of late evidence;
- concealed evidence from the parents about their views on late evidence and incorrectly implied to the tribunal service that they had a neutral stance on the matter;
- secreted extra evidence into the bundle;
- created a second bundle including extra evidence and late evidence from the LA, missing parents evidence and muddling other aspects of parents evidence;
- shared the Child and Family assessment to other departments, people and organisations prior to the parents seeing it;
- failed to communicate in any way with regard to the working document.
All of this is in-fact was an excellent reflection of the approach they had taken to both assessing their son’s needs and ensuring that he has the support and education he requires and is entitled to… by law.
As I write this Lucy does not know the outcome of the Tribunal. What she does know is that she felt that the Judge was thoughtful, thorough and fair. One small part of the additional evidence was allowed but since all of the rest of the evidence was thoroughly read in advance it was not possible to give the same thought to the late evidence.
I hope this both gives you a feel for the sort of sneaky games the LA might play, their apparent lack of competence and care (or is this deliberate and cunning?) and their lack of respect for the law. I hope too that if you are about to embark on this some of Lucy’s story will power you along the way.
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