Kent County Council (19 008 180)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 22 Oct 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint about the Council’s Travel Saver bus pass scheme. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault to warrant an investigation by the Ombudsman.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about the Council’s Travel Saver bus pass scheme. This provides children who are not entitled to free school travel with a bus pass at a discounted rate. Ms X is unhappy the cost of the scheme has increased and there is no longer a half-yearly option. This has been replaced with a direct debit scheme which includes an administration fee of £10. Ms X is not happy with this fee.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Ms X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I also gave Ms X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.

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What I found

  1. The Council says Ms X’s son is not entitled to free transport because he does not attend the closest school to his home. Ms X’s son instead attends the closest grammar school to his home. Ms X has complained to the Council about the administration of its Travel Saver scheme, which her son needs to access for school transport. In its responses to her complaints the Council explained:
    • The Travel Saver scheme is discretionary and provides transport to children who are not entitled to free school transport.
    • The cost of the scheme to the Council is around ten million pounds per year.
    • The Council introduced the direct debit option to replace the half-yearly pass.
    • There is a cost to the Council of administering the direct debit option and it must recover these costs.
    • The Council offers a lower cost pass to certain groups of children – including those in receipt of free school meals.
  2. The role of the Ombudsman is to look for administrative fault. It is not for us to determine what policies and procedures councils operate. These are decisions for elected members and council officers.
  3. The Travel Saver scheme is discretionary. It is for the Council to determine the costs and how the scheme operates. It is then for parents and young people to decide whether to participate. It is clear Ms X disagrees with the way the scheme operates. But there is no evidence of administrative or procedural fault in the way the Council decided the changes to the scheme. Without evidence of fault, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the scheme or intervene to substitute an alternative view. Also, even if there was evidence of fault, it is unlikely the administration fee of £10 would represent a significant enough injustice to warrant an investigation by the Ombudsman.
  4. If Ms X wants to challenge the Council’s policy of only providing free transport to the closest school to home, then she could speak to her local councillor. If Ms X believes there are exceptional reasons why the Council should provide her son with free transport to school, then she should ask the Council for details of its appeals process.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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