Four families of children with special educational needs (SEN) complain about the way Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council handled their appeals about the council removing their children's school transport.
The families complain that the council removed their children's transport midway through the school year, and an appeal panel did not tell them how it took into account supporting evidence they provided when considering their cases.
The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and found fault causing injustice
To remedy the injustice caused, the council has agreed to:
apologise to all four families for the identified faults.
pay the first family £300, the second £100, the third £600 and fourth £500 for the uncertainty, distress and disruption caused. This would also acknowledge the additional costs the families incurred when they had a legitimate expectation their child would receive school transport for the remainder of the school year.
make new school transport decisions for families three of the four families, and properly explain how it came to those decisions, what information it took into account including what factors it considered when it decided it was reasonable to expect the parent to accompany the child and why it disputes any supporting evidence the parents supplied. (A fourth family was recently told their son would be provided with the specialist transport for the 2016 school year.) If the Council was again to refuse to provide school transport, or the parent disagrees with the arrangements, this would entitle all of these families to new appeals which should be held under improved administrative procedures and held by officers who have not previously considered these appeals.
review the decisions it made on the additional nine appeals it identified during the investigation, which it refused. This is because of the faults we have identified. It should provide evidence to us of how it has reconsidered each case and how it has taken into account the information the appellants provided in their case and whether its decisions are sound. The Council has agreed to our recommendation. The Council says two of the children are now in mainstream school and not eligible for specialist transport and two have moved to new special schools and are now eligible for specialist transport. It says it will send application forms to the remaining families and, if submitted, the Council will reconsider them.
review its school transport application form for children with special educational needs and/or a disability to include an element to show if a family is on low income, defined as receiving the maximum Working Tax Credit or free school meals. The Council has already implemented these changes.
review its school transport appeal procedure. It should ensure it shows how it has taken into account individual circumstances and the supporting evidence supplied and explain the rationale for its decisions. It should take notes of the Appeal Panel’s deliberations and decision making to ensure its decisions can be audited. It should be able to demonstrate the new measures and procedures it will put in place to ensure its decisions and appeals are robust and defensible. The Council says it will meet this recommendation by taking more extensive notes of appeals and provide more comprehensive feedback to individuals in its decision letter. It will also state all the documents the Council has considered such as the Statement and Education, Health and Care Plan.
Ombudsman satisfied with council's response: 19 July 2017