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Staffordshire County Council (19 013 739)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 18 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs B’s complaint that the Council is at fault in refusing her application and appeal for free school transport for her daughter. This because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mrs B, complains that the Council is at fault in refusing her application and appeal for free school transport for her daughter.

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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. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered what Mrs B has said in support of her complaint. I have also taken account of the application and appeal documents provided by the Council and Mrs B’s response to my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mrs B’s daughter transferred from primary to middle school in September 2019. Mrs B applied for and obtained a place for her daughter at the school of her choice and applied for free school transport.
  2. The Council applied its home to school transport policy and refused Mrs B’s application. It did so on the grounds that the school to which she had applied was neither her closest nor the catchment school for the home address.
  3. Mrs B appealed against the Council’s decision. The appeal completed both stages of the Council’s review and appeal process. The appeal documents show that Mrs B had the opportunity to attend the Stage 2 appeal hearing. In addition to her written representations, she was able to present her case directly to the appeal panel members.
  4. The appeal panel refused Mrs B’s appeal. Mrs B believes the Council was at fault. Specifically, she believes the Council’s transport policy is not compliant with the statutory guidance set out in the School Admissions Code of Practice, in that it links school transport entitlement to the school admission process.
  5. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs B’s complaint because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part. It is clear that Mrs B disagrees with the Council’s school transport policy. But that is not evidence of fault. The evidence indicates that the Council properly considered Mrs B’s application and that its decision was in line with the school transport policy. The policy is separate for the rules governing the school admission process and it does not follow that obtaining a place at a school establishes entitlement to transport. I can see nothing to support Mrs B’s contention that the Council’s transport policy is in breach of statutory guidance.
  6. At the Stage 2 appeal hearing, the appeal panel members took account of Mrs B’s evidence in reaching its decision that exceptional circumstances did not apply. That is a matter for their judgement, not the Ombudsman, and there is no evidence of fault in the way they exercised it. That being the case, the Ombudsman cannot intervene to criticise the decision to refuse the appeal or to substitute an alternative view.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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