MORE than £160,000 has been spent by Worcestershire County Council on battling legal cases involving children with special needs.

Between January 2017 and August 2018, the county council paid £163,750 to legal firms fighting special educational needs and disability (SEND) cases on its behalf.

It is understood that these disputes relate to education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which are required before a child can attend a special needs school or receive extra funding.

The council said it reaches agreements with the majority of families who complain about EHCPs, although in some instances the cases go through a legal process.

Louise Hunt, who spent £17,000 on lawyers in her battle to get a plan for her son.

Her family was plunged into debt as a result of her fight with the council and she eventually decided to represent herself.

She added: "There are no words to describe the journey.

"When you are sleep deprived and facing challenges at home, it's so easy to think 'I just can't fight anymore'.

"Most people don't have the time or energy to read up on the law."

Mrs Hunt, aged 42, said some parents cannot afford to pay for legal help.

The Worcestershire mother applied for an EHCP assessment for her 12-year-old son, Noah, three times before turning to lawyers.

She said the council agreed to assess Noah, who has autism and other disorders, ahead of a tribunal which was then cancelled.

However, the council later refused to provide her boy with a plan.

Mrs Hunt appealed this decision and came up against the legal firm Baker Small, which had been employed by the council.

According to the BBC, Worcestershire County Council spent £302,000 on Baker Small between 2010 and 2016.

A council spokesman said: "Worcestershire County Council seeks to place children with education, health and care plans into appropriate, high quality provision with the agreement and support of their families.

"Children with SEND needs and their families have the right to appeal if they disagree with a placement or aspects of provision.

"We try where possible in the first instance to work with families to try and reach an agreement. In most cases this is achieved but in a small number, it goes to a legal appeals process.

"There are a number of cases where the issues are complex and where specialist legal advice and support is required.

“This work in the past has been carried out by the law firm Baker Small although the county council has not used this company for appeals cases for around 12 months."

The Advertiser previously reported that the county council was placing unlawful demands on parents seeking EHCPs for their children.