THOUSANDS of children in England with special educational needs are waiting too long for an education, health and care plan (EHC), the BBC has learned.
The EHC plans set out a child’s needs and the support to which they are entitled.
Once a plan is requested, the law says councils should normally finalise them within 20 weeks.
But through Freedom of Information requests, the BBC has learned around four in 10 plans have taken longer.
The BBC asked 152 councils in England about the time it took to issue EHC plans.
Sixty-five councils provided comparable data for the last four academic years, starting in 2014-15.
Over that period, 26,505 applications took longer than 20 weeks to finalise – including more than 6,000 last year alone.
Longest individual waits for a finalised EHC plan:
Suffolk: 1,023 days
Tower Hamlets: 1,014 days
Isle of Wight: 1,005 days
West Sussex: 973 days
Liverpool: 945 days
Dorset: 924 days
Haringey: 915 days
Havering: 898 days
Southend-on-Sea: 871 days
Worcestershire: 870 days
Source: BBC Research
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The longest wait for an individual application was in Suffolk – where it took the council 1,023 days, or nearly three years, to finalise one EHCP application.
Suffolk County Council said an increased demand for EHCPs had proved particularly challenging – happening at the same time as the transfer from the old system of Statements of Special Educational Needs (SEND).
Fifty-two councils told us that they had taken more than a year to finalise an EHC plan for at least one child.
While thousands of families are still waiting longer than 20 weeks for a finalised plan, the data suggests the mean and median waiting times are improving at many councils.
The number of requests for EHC plans has soared in recent years.
Sixty-one councils provided data on how many applications they had been receiving.
Between them, they were sent 16,696 requests for a needs assessment in 2014-15, but 28,507 in 2017-18 – a 70% increase.
West Sussex County Council told the BBC it had seen a 44% increase in the number of EHC plans it holds over the last four years.