The number of families seeking help from their local council for children with special needs has surged nationwide and locally in the last year, but thousands are being denied assistance, an investigation has found.

Figures obtained by the PA news agency show that the number of initial requests for a child to be assessed for an education, health and care plan (EHCP) has increased by more than 10% in the past year, leading to council leaders to warn that local authorities are in danger of failing to meet their statutory duties.

Whilst councils are agreeing the majority of these assessments, the number of refusals has also shot up, a trend also found across councils in south London.

The data, obtained via freedom of information requests to England's councils, show a 10.6% increase in initial requests for help between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Locally, Bromley saw a 30% increase in the number of initial requests, Merton had a 27% increase, and nearly all boroughs with data available saw the number of requests denied go up.

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EHCPs identify a child's educational, health and social needs, and set out what support the youngster should receive, and charity leaders warned that many children are being "unfairly turned down" for EHCPs, leaving families to fight for support.

Lynn Baker, who leads the National Deaf Children's Society's legal support for families, said: "Countless children are being unfairly turned down, leaving stressed and physically-exhausted parents to wade through legal battles they're not qualified for and can't be expected to fight.

"Many have nowhere left to turn and no option but to give up."

Nationally, there was an 8.5% increase in the number of initial requests local authorities agreed to assess in this period, from 38,843 in 2017/18 to 42,152 in 2018/19.

But at the same time, the number of requests refused rose by nearly 500 - from 14,610 to 15,097 (up 3.3%).

Lewisham, Merton and Bromley all saw their number of requests denied increase, and the latter's nearly tripled.

Councillor Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "These findings support our long-term concern that councils are in danger of being unable to meet their statutory duties for children with special educational needs."