FEWER than half of the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) approved in Cheshire East, and just over half in Cheshire West and Chester, were processed on time last year.

The plans allow families to access tailored assistance for children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs, but delays in creating them mean youngsters are struggling to access vital help, disability charity Scope says.

By law, councils have 20 weeks from the date of a request being made to craft a plan.

But Department for Education statistics show just 43 per cent of the EHCPs created in Cheshire East last year were processed within that time frame.

That is a drop from 2019, when 51 per cent were created on time.

Meanwhile, statistics show that 54 per cent of the EHCPs created in Cheshire West and Chester last year were processed within that time frame.

That is a drop from 2019, when 89 per cent were created on time.

The proportion of plans issued within 20 weeks has dropped nationally and is down to 58 per cent from 60 per cent last year.

The figures exclude cases where exceptions to the normal timescale applied – including any impacted by changes to council services in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19 between May 1 and September 25 last year, when the laws were temporarily relaxed.

Classed as legal documents, EHCPs can only be approved where families have already exhausted all support options available in schools and other educational settings and require further help.

Once in place, they allow youngsters to receive funded support tailored to their specific needs, from individual classroom assistance to speech and language therapy.

But Scope's Louise Rubin said families are struggling to access support, with delays having a 'massive impact' on disabled children.

She said: "Parents have told us about the stresses of applying for an EHCP as it can be a confusing and complex process and delays can make this worse.

"While families wait for an EHCP, the child will be missing out on the appropriate education, but also health and social care support.

"Their needs aren't being met. This can have a negative effect on their development, wellbeing and increase feelings of isolation.

"This stress and pressures affects not only the children but the whole family."

The figures also show Cheshire West and Chester council received 486 new requests for EHCPs last year, down from 498 in 2019, and approved 259 new plans.

Cheshire East council received 634 new requests for EHCPs, down from 640 in 2019, and approved 639 new plans.

In January, more than 430,000 children and young people in England had EHCPs in place, with 2,289 of them in Cheshire West and Chester and 2,934 in Cheshire East.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of The Council for Disabled Children said an on-going SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) review, expected to be published this summer, should result in more streamlined plans and will lead to more clarity for families in relation to their timeliness and quality.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble from the Local Government Association said the demand for EHC plans was a pressing issue for councils and called on the Government to urgently complete its review and provide local authorities with long-term funding to meet the needs of children with special educational needs.

A Department for Education spokesman said it is reassuring that support via EHCPs has continued throughout the pandemic, adding that it is providing £1.7 billion to help those who have been most impacted by tie out of the classroom, on top of £8 billion in high needs funding.

He added: "We know there is more to do to address the remaining challenges in the system, which is why our ongoing SEND Review is looking at how to make the system more consistent, high-quality and joined-up for every young person it supports.”