Havant Borough Council and six other authorities all failed to consider their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act when they replaced their existing concessionary travel schemes for disabled people with the minimum requirements of a new national scheme.
The Ombudsman said: “None of the councils I have investigated has been able to demonstrate that they took into account all relevant considerations at the time they made the decision not to continue with the local scheme.”
The RNIB complained on behalf of several complainants, all of whom are blind, partially sighted or deafblind, about the loss of concessionary travel schemes, which enabled them to travel free at any time of day, and the loss of the companion pass which allows a companion to travel free with the disabled person. The nine complainants live in the areas of the seven local authorities investigated.
Prior to 1 April 2008 all the councils investigated operated local concessionary travel schemes. From 1 April 2008 the Government introduced a new national scheme entitling disabled people and those over 60 to free bus travel between 9.30 am and 11 pm on weekdays and at any time during weekends and public holidays. Local authorities were permitted to offer more generous schemes provided they met any additional cost. The councils investigated decided to operate only the statutory minimum.
The Ombudsman concluded that when the councils decided not to offer local additions to the national scheme after 1 April 2008 they failed to consider their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and this was maladministration.
The Ombudsman felt that, while councils have a right to establish a policy to determine how they will confer benefits of this kind, policies must be implemented in a way that allows for individual circumstances to be taken into account. He said: “There must be a mechanism that enables the Council to consider why, in special circumstances, the policy should be varied to meet the needs of individuals affected by it. None of the councils here had such a mechanism.” He found this to be maladministration.
Havant Borough Council also acted with maladministration when it failed to:
- consult the complainants about the proposals; and
- provide them wih effective notification of the changes.
As a result, the Ombudsman considered that the complainants were left with a justified sense of outrage and may have been put to unnecessary expense and inconvenience. The Ombudsman also considered that the complainants lost opportunity to influence the process by the councils’ failure to consult them about the proposals or provide them with effective notification of the changes.
The Council agreed to pay each complainant £100 compensation and also to reconsider the question of whether it should put in place additional concessions to those provided under the statutory scheme.