Personal Budgets – The Secret To Supporting Your Child's Education
The Law Of… Having More Control Over Your Child's Education
The Children and Families Act 2014 marked the arrival of a new framework for SEN provisions for children and young people in education.
A vital part of this framework was the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for students with special educational needs (SEN), emphasising the need for support for students with different needs.
Since it was introduced, the EHCP has become a crucial legal document for parents, schools and Local Authorities (LAs) across the country. But, in comparison, parents seem to know less about the allocation of personal budgets for children with SEN.
Vruksha Patel, Specialist Education Law Advisor, explains how personal budgets are created, managed and challenged.
What Are Personal Budgets?
A personal budget sets out the amount of money available to fund the support that a child or young person with SEN requires following an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA). The difference between an EHCP and a personal budget is that the latter allows parents or nominated third parties to have more involvement in deciding how the funds should be spent. A Local Authority that maintains, or is in the process of securing, an EHCP can be asked to prepare a personal budget.
Personal budgets cannot increase the levels of funding available to a child or young person, nor are they a way to receive funding for aspects unrelated to education, health and social care. Local Authorities may currently prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid the suggestion of personal budgets where possible with these two misconceptions being widely drawn upon, but this does not render them entirely redundant.
A personal budget should mean that you get a bigger say in how your child's needs are met by effectively 'buying' the relevant support with the budget as opposed to having this arranged for you.
"Confusion surrounding personal budgets in practice has resulted in their limited application since 2014; however, parents and authorities are urged to be undeterred", Vruksha explains.
"The budgets may well prove to offer flexible solutions to difficulties with SEN Support and provision for children and young people in need."
Can I Get A Personal Budget?
If your child (or a young person) has an EHCP and you request a personal budget from your Local Authority, it must prepare a budget for you covering the support detailed in the plan.
The core criterion for a personal budget is that only those with an EHCP are eligible for an educational budget. Children who receive SEN support, but do not have an EHCP, are not eligible because the level of support required to meet their needs would not be considered part of the surplus funding that a personal budget covers.
A personal budget for education, therefore, will only include the funds needed to buy more specialist or individual support than what is already covered by base funding.
It does not cover funding for a school placement itself, nor for the provision included in a local offer. Schools and colleges can agree to contribute to a personal budget, but are not obliged to do so.
Another factor to be aware of is that the Local Authority might not be able to offer funding for a specific service for your child if this service is already covered in a wider block of funding being paid to the school. For example, it might not be able to offer funding for a school-based therapy service that is paid for in the block funding given to the school.
This is because it's not always possible to separate a particular service into an individual amount of money.
The Special Educational Needs (Personal Budgets) Regulations 2014 contain more information about how funding is allocated.
What Are The Advantages Of Having A Personal Budget?
A personal budget is based on provisions outlined by an EHCNA or EHCP, and it should provide you with more control over how your child's needs are met.
- Have more say in how their child's educational outcomes are to be achieved
- Know how much money is available to pay for the support needed
- Have more involvement in creating a plan to help their child achieve their outcomes
Another key benefit of the process is allowing parents to have a choice of how the funding is managed.
How a personal budget is prepared can differ from one LA to another, but each policy must include the following:
- A description of the education, health and social care provision required
- The options for managing the personal budget
- A clear explanation of how a child or young person is eligible for a personal budget
How Can A Personal Budget Be Managed?
There are 4 different ways of managing a personal budget, each of which offer parents varying levels of control:
- Direct payments: parents receive the money themselves to buy the support needed for their child. Along with having control over the budget entirely, there is a responsibility to ensure all needs are being met by appropriate service providers within the budget allocated.
- Third-party arrangements: this option provides funds to a named individual or organisation to manage the budget on your behalf. This allows them to have a similar amount of control as a direct payment without the need for you to take on the responsibility of managing and organising services.
- Notional budgets: the LA continues to hold funds and make the support arrangements. There should still be transparency in the process of allocating the funds, but the control awarded to parents is much more limited than the first two options above.
- Combination budgets: it may be possible that some services are organised by the LA and others are organised by funding given directly to parents. As a result, this would require closer monitoring between service providers to ensure the overall programme was meeting all of your child's needs.
How Much Control Can I Have Over The Funding?
A parent or third party can be refused a direct payment if their Local Authority believes that it would be an 'inefficient use of resources', or it would have a detrimental impact on other services that are already provided through the EHCP.
How Is The Budget Calculated?
A personal budget should reflect the needs and level of support that a child or young person requires. The total amount must cover the costs of all additional support agreed in the EHCP. Therefore, the general trend is that the more complex a child's needs, the greater the level of support needed and the higher the personal budget would usually be.
The total is entirely based on the needs of the individual and should not be reflective of any rough figures used by the LA for the costs of providing services to other children in similar positions. Many LAs use Resource Allocation Systems (RAS) to provide initial estimates of personal budgets, but this figure must only be used to give the LA and parents an initial indication of how much funding is available.
What Can I Do If My Child's Personal Budget Doesn't Cover The Costs Of Their Needs?
Once a personal budget has been offered to you, you should ask the Local Authority to break down the budget in a specified and quantified way to show exactly how your child's needs are to be met.
If the budget does not appear to reflect the funding needed to meet their needs, you can challenge the LA on the final amount.
You can't, however, appeal against the budget to the First-Tier SEN Tribunal in the same way that you can for EHCPs.
How Can Simpson Millar's Education Team Help Me?
If you'd like to find out more about personal budgets and how you can apply for one, get in touch with our Education Law experts. Similarly, if you're worried that the budget given to your child fails to cover all of their needs, we can advise you about what steps you can take next.