Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 20 Oct 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs B says the Council failed to advertise the availability of short breaks transport, wrongly said a child needed an education, health and care plan to access transport and forced her to accept direct payments when she wants the Council to provide transport. There is no evidence the Council knew of any concerns about provision of a direct payment to fund transport and the current information on the Council’s website does not say a child needs an education, health and care plan to access transport. The Council failed to properly advertise the availability of short breaks transport and delayed dealing with Mrs B’s request. An apology and changes to the Council’s website, which has already taken place, along with a payment to Mrs B is satisfactory remedy.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs B, complained the Council:
- failed to advertise the availability of short breaks transport;
- wrongly said a child needed an education, health and care plan to access transport when that is contrary to local policies; and
- wrongly forced her to accept direct payments when she wants the Council to provide transport.
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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and Mrs B's comments;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided.
What I found
What should have happened
- The Council has introduced a page on its website for transport for short breaks. This says there is no statutory entitlement to transport for short breaks but it can be assessed as part of the assessment of need when a short break is requested by a carer or parent. Where there are specific barriers to accessing a short break due to transport issues or hardship, support with transport will be considered on an individual basis through the assessment. The Council’s webpage says a child does not need to have an education, health and care plan to receive short breaks transport.
- Mrs B daughter was receiving services from the Council through early help. That included provision of a short break on a Tuesday evening. Mrs B contacted the Council in September 2020 to ask it about short breaks transport. As Mrs B had not received a response she contacted the Council again in October 2020. Mrs B put in a formal complaint in November 2020. The Council responded to that in December 2020. Mrs B asked for the complaint to go to stage two.
- The Council referred the case to its short breaks panel in December 2020. The short breaks panel awarded £14 per week transport costs to cover the cost of a taxi to and from the short break provision.
- The Council responded to the stage two complaint in January 2021. The Council apologised for the delay putting in place provision for transport for Mrs B’s daughter to attend short breaks.
- The Council says to address the learning from this complaint it has:
- formed a transport panel which meets each week to discuss applications for transport and consider any areas of concern relating to the provision of transport for children with special educational needs;
- formed a transport working group made up of senior officers to oversee key aspects of the service, including complaints;
- updated the local offer website, creating a question and answer section relating to short breaks transport.
- Mrs B says the Council failed to advertise the availability of short breaks transport which meant she did not know it was available for her daughter. The Council accepts before Mrs B put in her complaint it did not provide information about short breaks transport on its website. That is fault and means Mrs B did not have sufficient information about the availability of short breaks transport for her daughter before September 2020. I am satisfied the Council has acted to address that by including a page on its short breaks website detailing the provision of short breaks transport. I welcome that.
- I am concerned though the Council delayed dealing with Mrs B’s request for short breaks transport. Mrs B asked for transport for her daughter in September 2020. There is no evidence the Council responded to that until December 2020, despite Mrs B chasing. That delay is fault. The Council has apologised for that. The combined effect of not advertising the availability of short breaks transport and the delay processing Mrs B’s application though means Mrs B had to fund transport for her daughter for longer than she should have. To recognise that and Mrs B’s time and trouble in pursuing the complaint I recommended the Council pay her £100. In reaching the view that this is an appropriate remedy I have taken into account the likelihood that Mrs B’s daughter would not have been able to attend many short break sessions before December 2020 due to Covid 19 restrictions. The Council has accepted my recommendation.
- Mrs B says the Council unlawfully said a child needed an education, health and care plan to access transport when that is contrary to local policy. In contrast the Council says as it has been established the short breaks website did not provide information about the availability of transport it cannot have given Mrs B wrong information about that. As I do not have access to the information that was on the Council’s website before the transport page was added I cannot reach a safe conclusion about this part of the complaint. I am satisfied though the current information on the website does not say a child needs to have an education, health and care plan to access short breaks transport.
- Mrs B says the Council wrongly forced her to accept direct payments for her daughter’s transport to her short break. Mrs B says she wanted the Council to provide transport and a taxi service is not appropriate for her daughter due to her autism. Having considered the documentary evidence there is nothing to suggest Mrs B told the Council she wanted it to provide short breaks transport. Nor is there any evidence in the documentary records to show Mrs B told the Council a direct payment for a taxi was inappropriate for her daughter’s needs either before panel considered her request or after the direct payment was awarded. Given there is no suggestion in the paperwork that a direct payment was not appropriate I cannot criticise the Council for deciding to fund short breaks transport through a direct payment. I am satisfied though once the Council became aware Mrs B was concerned about whether that option was suitable for her daughter it arranged for a reassessment to establish what transport is appropriate. I welcome that.
- Within one month of my decision the Council will pay Mrs B £100 to reflect her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint and the fact she had to fund her daughter’s transport for longer than she should have.
- The Council has already apologised to Mrs B for the delay dealing with her request for short breaks transport and for the lack of information about short breaks transport on the Council’s website. The Council has also reassessed the provision it is making for Mrs B’s short break transport.
- I have completed my investigation and found fault by the Council in part of the complaint which caused Mrs B an injustice. I am satisfied the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy that injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman