The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault by the Council in a complaint that alleged the complainant’s son missed education due to a lack of risk assessments by the Council’s special needs transport service.
- I refer to the complainant here as Ms X. Ms X says her son missed education due to a lack of risk assessments by the Council’s special needs transport service.
- Ms X says the transport service is not suitable for her son due to his disabilities. She says the transport staff treat her son like a misbehaving child and prioritise their own wellbeing and need over those of her son.
- Ms X wants the Council to arrange an alternative transport service for her son.
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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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 examined the complaint and background information provided by Ms X and the Council. I discussed the complaint with Ms X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Ms X and the Council. I considered Ms X’s comments in reply.
What I found
- The Council provides a transport service for Ms X’s adult son. In February 2020, the service provider in place at the time completed a risk assessment of the service following incidents in which seats and a headrest were damaged by Ms X’s son over a two week period. The assessment led to a recommendation that two assistants would be provided to support Ms X’s son during journeys to and from school. The assessment also concluded the assistants should be vigilant to prevent harm to Ms X’s son; distract him with sensory activities, sensory toys, food and magazines as well as give him personal space.
- The Council changed the service provider in March 2020.However, the transport service itself stopped due to the Covid lockdown.
- The Council’s transport service carried out another risk assessment in November 2020. It recommended fitting a static harness to the vehicle; distracting Ms X’s son with sensory activities during transportation; and a one to one passenger assistant to support him. The assessment stated her son’s father had agreed to assist transport staff in helping her son on and off the bus. Ms X’s son’s college also agreed to assist transport staff in helping her son on and off the bus.
- Ms X’s son’s college reopened in January 2021. The Council offered Ms X’s son transport with its in-house provider.
- Ms X asked the Council to reinstate the previous service provider in March 2021. The Council insisted its own service was adequate to transport Ms X’s son. Ms X then refused the service. Ms X’s son missed school between March 2021 and May 2021.
- The service resumed afterwards for Ms X’s son. There was an incident in September 2021 in which Ms X’s son bit the headrest of a seat when he had been released from his harness/seat. This led the transport service to ask for Ms X’s help in getting her son settled in the harness and to come into the bus before he is released from the harness. Ms X cites this incident and subsequently being asked to assist with getting her son off and on the bus as reasons why she feels the service is inadequate. Ms X says there are other incidents that also reinforce her feelings. She says the assistants ‘just sit there’ and leave things for her son to ingest like newspapers. Ms X says she is due to meet with the Council to raise her concerns about past incidents.
- I am satisfied the Council conducted sufficient and adequate assessments of the risk Ms X’s son poses to himself and others during the journeys to and from college. The risk assessments clearly identified that he may seek to bite things around him such as seats or headrests. The assessments suggested sensory distractions for him The assessments recommended the use of two assistants on the bus service.
- That incidents occur during the transport service does not lead me to conclude the assessments were inadequate or the problems occurred because of a lack of assessments. The Ombudsman does not expect councils to provide a perfect service. Problems can arise and it is then for the Council and/or Ms X to resolve those problems. The Council indicated a willingness to address Ms X’s concerns by meeting with her and I find this is the appropriate way to deal with the matter.
- I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman