Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 16 Dec 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the decision not to provide her daughter with free transport to school. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault in how the Council has reached its decision and so we cannot question its merits.
- Mrs X complains about the decision not to provide her daughter with free transport to school.
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 Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I looked at documents from the Council and gave Mrs X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.
What I found
- The Council has provided Mrs X’s two eldest children with free transport to her preferred school (School Y). In September 2017, Mrs X’s younger daughter (Z) started at School Y. Mrs X asked the Council to provide Z with free transport to School Y. The Council refused because it said Z did not attend the closest school to home. The Council had clarified its policy to say it would include out of county schools in deciding which was the closest school. A school outside of the county boundary was the closest school to Mrs X’s home. Because Z did not attend this school there was no entitlement to free transport.
- Mrs X appealed the Council’s decision. A panel of elected members considered Mrs X’s appeal and decided to grant Z transport to School Y until November 2018. Mrs X would then have to make a fresh application / appeal.
- In November 2018, elected members again considered Mrs X’s request for free transport to school. Mrs X attended the appeal. The Council’s representative explained why Z did not qualify for free transport to School Y. Mrs X had the opportunity to present her case. She explained why the Council should provide free transport. Mrs X explained there was a ‘Vacant Seat’ available to Z on a council service, but this required a parental contribution.
- The clerk’s notes show the panel considered what Mrs X and the Council had said. It noted that School Y was not the closest to home and decided there were no reasons Mrs X could not buy a Vacant Seat pass. The panel refused Mrs X’s appeal.
- The role of the Ombudsman is to look for administrative fault. We are not a route of further appeal. We cannot criticise a council’s decision if there is no evidence of fault in how the decision was reached.
- While I know Mrs X disagrees with the panel’s decision, this is not evidence of fault. Appeal panels are entitled to make their own judgements on the information before them. For the Ombudsman to be able to question the decisions taken by the Council, or the panel, there would need to be clear fault in the decision-making process. Based on the information I have seen, there is not enough evidence of fault for the Ombudsman to become involved.
- If Mrs X has fresh information, she should present this to the Council and there may be an opportunity for a further appeal.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault in how the Council has reached its decision, and so we cannot question its merits.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman