Somerset County Council has been fined more than £3,000 after causing an autistic pupil to miss nearly a year’s worth of school.

A Somerset pupil, known only as Mr Y, stopped attending primary school in March 2021 due to anxiety and was subsequently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

His mother, Mrs X, complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after the council failed to issue him with an updated education, health and care plan (EHCP), causing him to miss months of schooling.

The council has apologised to the family and said it had taken steps to speed up its assessment processes.

The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of “maladministration” and “service failure” in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.

Mr Y stopped attending his mainstream primary school in March 2021, citing anxiety, and was subsequently diagnosed with “autism spectrum disorder with pathological demand avoidance profile” – meaning they would “resist and avoid the ordinary demands of life”.

Mr Y had been provided with an EHCP in February 2021, but his mother Mrs X asked the council for an early review, arguing his needs had “not been properly identified”.

The council carried out a review in late-May 2021, which found Mr Y was out of school and the school’s efforts to reintegrate him had proved unsuccessful. Officer subsequently agreed to amend Mr Y’s EHCP.

In July 2021, Mrs X contacted the council and asked them not to finalise the amended plan until she had received reports from separate private assessments of Mr Y’s needs, which she had commissioned herself.

She revealed at this time that Mr Y was receiving “emotional literacy support” from the school, but could only manage 15 minutes per week, and that his primary school placement had “broken down”.

She requested a personal budget for a mentor to work with her son and for the council to arrange alternative education provision.

In late-August 2021, the council responded that Mr Y remained the responsibility of his primary school since he remained on its pupil roll, and any funding for a personal mentor would have to come out of the school’s budget.

After months of further correspondence and negotiation – during which time Mrs X lodged her complaint with the ombudsman – the council finally agreed to fund a personal mentor for Mr Y in December 2021, with the final EHCP not being issued until February 2022.

Mrs X told the ombudsman that the lack of “appropriate education” for Mr Y since March 2021 had been “detrimental to him” and caused “significant distress” for the family, with Mrs X having to reduce her working hours as a result.

The council replied that Mrs X “did not provide evidence” that her son was too unwell to attend school,  and that Mr Y’s prolonged absence had been recorded as “unauthorised”.

However, it did apologise for the delay in issuing the EHCP and the funding for Mr Y’s mentor.

The ombudsman concluded that the council had “not complied with its duty” to provide suitable education under the Education Act 1996, and was at fault for not taking action sooner.

It also found “no evidence” that the council had kept Mr Y’s non-attendance at school under review, and had not acted swiftly enough after the school revealed in October 2021 that it could not meet his specific needs.

The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise and to pay £3,125 to Mrs Y – comprising £2,625 for the lack of alternative education provision between April 2021 and February 2022, and £500 for “distress and avoidable time and trouble” caused by the council’s delays.

It also ordered to make an unspecified third payment to Mrs X, equating to the cost of the personal budget Mr Y should have received between July and December 2021.

A Somerset County Council spokesperson said: “We accept the ruling and have apologised to the family for the distress caused due to lack of suitable school provision.

“We have completed all the actions asked of us and have been working hard to shorten the wait for assessments for EHCPs, and young people in Somerset now get their plans more quickly than the national average.

“We appreciate there is more to do and are committed to continual improvements.”