The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms B complained on behalf of her son, Mr D, that the transport provided to enable him to attend college did not meet his needs. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms B, says that changes to her son’s college transport meant he was left at college after classes on the first day of term. She says she had not been told that transport arrangements would change for him. Her son, Mr D, now has to wait ninety minutes at the end of the day to be collected on three days each week. Ms B says the Council has not addressed her complaints.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools or colleges. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), as amended)
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 information sent to me by Ms B. I made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response. I accessed its transport policies online. I refer to the relevant statutory guidance, which is ‘Post-16 Transport to Education and Training’ (2017). I sent Ms B and the Council a copy of my draft decision and took their comments into account before reaching a decision.
What I found
- Mr D is 23 years old and has special educational needs. He lives in supported living accommodation and attends college. He has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) setting out his needs and the support he requires.
- Mr D cannot travel to college independently. His EHCP says ‘Mr D will never have the ability to travel independently due to his severe learning difficulties and fixation with cars. Mr D has no concept of road safety, with the added complication of his obsessive behaviour especially around motor vehicles. Travelling independently would place Mr D in extreme danger’.
- Because of these needs, Mr D is provided with transport by the Council to and from college. The Council now runs transport at the beginning and end of each college day (and also at 12:30pm, if necessary, to accommodate learners who have half days). On three days each week, Mr D finishes college an hour and a half before transport arrives. Ms B believes Mr D should be provided with transport in accordance with his timetable.
- The relevant statutory guidance says ‘Young people with an EHC plan will have an institution named in their plan at Section I. There is no entitlement to transport to and from this named provider and transport should only be named in an EHC plan in exceptional circumstances. Local authorities should ensure during EHC plan discussions that parents are made aware that transport support will be considered in accordance with the local authority’s own post-16 transport policy’. Therefore, there is nothing in guidance to say what transport arrangements made for young people with EHCPs should look like. There is nothing in the guidance to say transport should be free of charge or that it must be tailored to the needs of individuals. The way it is run is for an individual council to decide.
- The Council’s policy is that it ‘may consider providing transport directly’ or it ‘may consider granting a student a personal transport budget’. It suggests that ‘where possible the lesson programme will be designed to reduce the extent of free time in any given day. Where free periods occur between lessons and collection/drop off times, it is the responsibility of the college to make appropriate provision for learners to remain safely on site’. This is what Mr D’s college has been asked to do when Mr D has to wait for transport.
- The Council says it discussed its policy informally with colleges before writing to them in August to confirm the arrangements. The Council also wrote to Mr D on 24 August to explain the changes. It was not fault for the Council to write to Mr D although the Council might have considered whether Ms B should have been informed too. On the balance of probabilities, the Council would not have known Mr D’s timetable at that point so it could not be specific about when Mr D would be picked up and on what days. Nevertheless, writing in August did allow Mr D to be prepared for the new policy starting when he returned to college. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- Ms B says the Council ‘left’ Mr D at college on his first day back after the summer holidays. The Council says it had arranged for transport to start on 4 September. The Council would expect Mr D to be picked up at 5pm. It says it did not receive any information about a missed pick up at the time but would be willing to investigate if more information could be provided. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- The Council says that if parents or representatives have concerns about transport they have appeal rights. The webpage for the Council’s ‘16+ transport policy’, which is more for 16-19 year olds, says that ‘details of the appeals procedure as set out below will be included in the decision letter’. There is no procedure ‘set out below’. The ‘adult access to education’ policy does not make reference to an appeal process. The Council should consider making information about appeals easier to find and provide further detail so it is clear what people should do if they are dissatisfied with decisions made.
- Ms B felt that the Council had not answered her complaint properly. The Council suggested to her, when it responded to her complaints in October, that she should approach the college Mr D attended and complain about the timetabling of his course. Ms B thought the Council was at fault for not taking responsibility for her concerns. It is not fault for the Council to comment on timetabling for Mr D. The Council clearly expects colleges to be mindful of pick up arrangements and, given the Council’s policy, it would be reasonable to expect colleges to be mindful. Timetabling is a college matter, however, and not one the Ombudsman can consider.
- There is no evidence of Council fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman