Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 12 Nov 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains that the Council offered home to school transport which was unsuitable for her disabled child. There was fault by the Council because it did not properly consider Ms X’s reasons for saying the transport was unsuitable. The Council agreed to a financial remedy to reflect Ms X’s distress and time and trouble.
- Ms X complains the Council offered home to school transport which was unsuitable for her disabled child because the timing of the school run would likely affect his medical condition.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and correspondence sent to the Ombudsman by Ms X and the Council. I discussed matters with Ms X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Ms X and the Council and considered the Council’s comments on it. I revised my decision statement based on the Council’s further comments and evidence it provided.
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
What I found
- Ms X’s son is epileptic and has an Education, Health and Care plan including wheelchair accessible home to school transport. Ms X applied for transport for her son in February 2018.
- The Council made transport arrangements for her son but offered a pick up at 7.30am in the morning. Ms X told the Council the arrangement was unsuitable as her son requires medication at 8am. She said altering the time he was medicated could have an adverse impact on his condition.
- The Council told Ms X it could offer a pick up of 7.40am to 7.45am or her son could be medicated at 8am while in the school bus. Ms X maintained this was not suitable but the Council decided it could not offer her any other transport. It said her only recourse was an appeal to its Regulation Committee Appeal Panel.
- The Appeal Panel considered the appeal at the end of April 2018. The Appeal panel decided the Council applied its transport policy properly. It said Ms X’s specific circumstances were not strong enough to enable the panel to use its discretion to offer transport as an exception to the policy.
- Regarding Ms X’s circumstances, the panel noted Ms X’s statement on the consequences of a change of the timing of her son’s medication; medical statements she provided; the scoliosis spinal surgery her son just had; and a need for an escort to assist with her son’s back needs as well as seizure activity.
- However, when the panel considers cases involving children with an Education, Health, and Care plan (EHCP) the special education needs (SEN) team is required to present a report to the panel on the case. But the SEN team did not present a report.
- An area manager in the SEN team contacted Ms X in May 2018. The officer said because of her son’s significant needs and major spinal surgery the Council accepted he needed a sole occupancy vehicle with a passenger assistant. The Council says this decision was based on new information that was not available to its transport eligibility team beforehand.
- Ms X made a claim to the Council for petrol costs she incurred when driving her son to school between 13 March and 17 April 2018. This was while she awaited the appeal. The Council refused the claim because there was school transport available for her son during that period.
- I find procedural fault by the Council because its regulation committee did not properly consider a reasonable adjustment to take account of Ms X’s son’s needs. Information on his medical condition provided by the NHS was not given sufficient weighting by the panel. The information, when included in the SEN report, was one of the reasons why SEN officers were persuaded that Ms X’s son’s condition warranted a sole occupancy taxi.
- The failure to provide a SEN report to the panel materially affected the outcome. This was fault.
- But the impact of the identified fault is lessened by the fact Ms X’s son was in hospital for much of the period involved in this complaint and so school transport each day was not a material requirement.
- There was a period when Ms X drove her son to school while awaiting the appeal. I consider Ms X suffered distress and inconvenience as a result of fault by the Council. She was also put to unnecessary time and trouble in pursuing an appeal with the Council. I recommend the Council makes a payment of £250 as a remedy for the injustice Ms X was caused.
- There was fault by the Council. I closed the complainant because it agreed to remedy the injustice to Ms X.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman