Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 19 Apr 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint about the Council’s decision not to grant her children free transport to school. It is unlikely an investigation would find fault with how the decision was reached and so we cannot question its merits.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms X, complains the Council has refused her applications and appeals for free school 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Ms X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and information from the Council. I spoke with Ms X on the telephone. I gave Ms X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Ms X asked the Council to provide her children with free transport to school. The Council refused her applications because the distance from home to school was less than three miles.
- Councils must apply their school transport policy when deciding entitlement to transport assistance. But they also have the discretion to consider exceptional circumstances, and they must have a review or appeal process by which to do so. Ms X appealed against the Council’s decision.
- A senior officer refused Ms X’s appeal at the first stage of the Council’s appeals process. Ms X said she did not think the route to school was safe and so the Council arranged for it to be assessed. The assessment found the route to be safe for an accompanied child.
- An appeal panel made up of elected members considered Ms X’s appeal at the second stage of the appeals process. The Panel considered information from the Council. Ms X had the opportunity to present her case and the Panel asked questions. The Panel decided the Council had properly applied its policy and there was no automatic entitlement to free transport. It decided the Council had properly assessed the route and there were not sufficient grounds to grant Ms X’s appeal.
- The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and we cannot criticise a decision which is properly made, or intervene to substitute an alternative view. The Council has applied its school transport policy and there is no indication of fault in the way it did so. Appeal panels are entitled to make their own judgements on the information before them. Based on the evidence available, it is unlikely an investigation would find fault with the way the Council has acted.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint. This is because it is unlikely an investigation would find fault with the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman