The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms K complains the Council failed to properly consider her school transport appeal. The Ombudsman considers there is no fault by the Council or the appeal panel.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms K, complains the Council did not properly consider her school transport appeal for her two children.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 have considered the complaint and the copy correspondence provided by the complainant. I have made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. I have also considered the complainant’s comments on my draft decision.
What I found
- Local authorities must provide home to school transport for puplils if certain criteria are met. Pupils are eligible for school transport assistance if they have to travel more than 2 miles from reception to year 3, or more than 3 miles from year 4 to year 11.
- Councils also provide home to school transport assistance when parents are on a low income, for example if the family receives free school meals or the parent is entitled to maximum working tax credit. Councils can also provide discretionary assistance in exceptional circumstances.
- Ms K did not meet the criteria for school transport because her children were in year 7 and above and she lives less than 3 miles from the school. Ms K was also not eligible based on a low income. She applied to the Council for school transport, but it refused because it said she did not meet the criteria.
- Ms K appealed because she said she could not afford to pay the fares. She said it was too far to walk at just under the 3 miles and was not a safe route. She asked the Council to use its discretionary power to provide school transport assistance.
- The Council says a senior officer reconsidered its decision but found that the Council had applied its home to school transport policy properly. The Council says that when an appeal is reconsidered but upheld, the appeal is automatically passed to its members panel to consider at stage two of its process. The Council says it invited Ms K to attend the hearing, but she did not attend.
- The members panel considered Ms K’s appeal. It noted Ms K’s income was low, but she did not qualify for free school meals. Ms K was not entitled to the maximum working tax credits. It also noted that the home to school route was along main roads but there were pavements and a zebra crossing. Therefore, it did not consider the route was unsafe. The panel unanimously upheld the Council’s decision to refuse assistance. The panel considered using the Council‘s discretionary power to provide assistance but it did not decide that it should. The clerk to the panel wrote to Ms K and explained its decision.
- Based on the evidence I have seen it appears the Council and the panel considered the matter in accordance with the Council’s policy and guidance regarding home to school transport assistance. I have not seen evidence of fault in the process or the panel’s decision making. Therefore, my view is there is no fault by the Council or the panel.
- The Council has provided evidence that it followed the appeal process recommended by The Department of Education’s statutory guidance, Home to school travel and transport guidance (2014). This suggests a two stage process with a review by a senior officer and then by an independent appeal panel. While information provided by the Council in its letters to the complainant and in its policy do not refer to this two stage process, I have not found that this is a fault by the Council. However, the Council has agreed to consider providing this information for clarity.
- I have not found fault by the Council or the panel and so I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman