The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the outcome of his home to school transport appeal for his daughter. He said the panel did not properly consider all the information he provided when it denied his request for a taxi as school transport for his daughter. Mr X further complained the Council ignored his communication about the same matter. There was fault in the Council’s record keeping but this did not cause Mr X an injustice as it did not affect the outcome of the appeal.
- Mr X complained about the outcome of his home to school transport appeal for his daughter. He said the panel did not properly consider all the information he provided when it denied his request for a taxi as school transport for his daughter. Mr X further complained the Council ignored his communication about the same matter. Mr X stated this caused him frustration and distress and financial loss as he had to pay for his daughter’s taxi.
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)
- 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)
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).
How I considered this complaint
- I read the documents provided by Mr X and discussed the complaint with him on the telephone.
- I read the documents provided by the Council.
- Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
Guidance and legislation
- The Home to school travel and transport guidance is the statutory guidance which sets out council’s duties and responsibilities when providing school transport. It sets out the circumstances in which councils must provide transport for children.
- The guidance also sets out where the council can make discretionary arrangements for children who would otherwise not be entitled to school transport. It states councils may charge for that transport, but good practice is that children from low-income groups should be exempt. It is for the council to decide how and where to apply its discretion to provide transport.
- The Statutory guidance states councils should have a clear and transparent two stage process for appeals. It states the stage 2 response should set out:
- the decision reached;
- how the review was conducted;
- information about the other departments and agencies that were consulted as part of the process;
- what factors it considered; and
- the rationale for the decision it reached.
- The Council’s policy on home to school transport sets out in what circumstances children will be eligible for school transport. It also states how someone can appeal against the Council’s decision not to allocate their child school transport. It states at stage 1 the parent can appeal to a senior officer who will consider if the Council has applied the policy correctly.
- At stage 2, two senior officers from the transport department and education department, will consider the complaint. They will consider the evidence and decide to either uphold or overturn the previous decision. The Council will provide the panel’s decisions and reasons to the parent in a letter within five working days. The Council states it will conduct the appeal in a fair and transparent manner and ensure parents feel listened to.
- In August 2021 Mr X applied for school transport for his daughter M. M was 11 and attending a school in a different area from where she lived as the family planned to move. Mr X cited his medical condition as a reason why M should be eligible for school transport.
- In August the Council considered Mr X’s application and decided it would not provide M with school transport. It told Mr X he could appeal the decision.
- Mr X appealed the decision at stage 1 and provided evidence that he was trying to move closer to the school. A Council senior officer considered the matter. The Council decided to provide M with a bus pass for two terms while Mr X continued to arrange to move.
- In September Mr X appealed the decision. He stated M had not used public transport before on her own. He said M did not feel comfortable using the bus as she had been racially abused when using public transport. Mr X stated he could not take M to school in the morning due to his medical condition but could collect her. He said he had been paying for a taxi for M in the morning which he was struggling to afford due to his low income.
- In October the Council held a stage 2 panel meeting. Mr X attended and presented his appeal. The panel considered the matter. It did not make any record or minutes of its deliberations. The record of the pupil details stated ‘parent does not want pupil to travel on public bus’. The Council wrote to Mr X and told him it sympathised with the family’s difficulties in transporting M to school, and Mr X’s medical needs. It decided to refuse a taxi service for M as she was not eligible for school transport but continued to offer a bus pass. It directed Mr X to us if he disagreed with the outcome.
- Mr X responded to the Council and stated it had not considered that M did not feel comfortable on the bus due to abuse she had suffered previously.
- In November Mr X complained to us. He said the key matter was that M was uncomfortable on the bus as she had previously been racially abused and had not travelled on her own. He said the Council had not considered this key issue when it decided his appeal.
- In February 2022 Mr X again complained to the Council about the matter. He stated he had not received a response from the Council about why it had not considered the abuse he said M had suffered during the appeal hearing. The Council responded and stated because we were considering the matter it must wait for our decision.
- In response to my enquiries the Council said Mr X attended the appeal in person and explained his concerns about M travelling on the bus to the panel. It said the panel considered what Mr X said about the racist abuse and the crime reference number he provided. It also considered that M’s school had offered to buddy M with other pupils travelling the same route in response to Mr X’s concerns.
- We are not an appeal body. Our role is to review the process by which decisions are made. We look for fault in the decision-making process, and if we find it, we decide whether it has caused an injustice to the complainant.
- Mr X appealed the Council’s discretionary decision to provide M with a bus pass at stage 2. He told the Council the reasons he felt a bus pass was inappropriate and the Council considered those reasons when it made its decision. The Council did not record minutes of the panel meeting to show what information it considered, what questions it asked Mr X or what weight it gave to the evidence provided. That was fault.
- The Council’s decision letter following the appeal did not provide Mr X with a clear rationale about how it reached its decision and what information it considered in making that decision. It made no reference to M’s previous experience of racial abuse on public transport or how it considered it. That was fault.
- The poor record keeping and lack of transparency identified above was fault and not in line with the statutory guidance or the Council’s own policy. However, I am satisfied the Council did properly consider Mr X’s concerns at the time. Therefore, the faults did not cause Mr X or M any injustice as they did not affect the outcome of the appeal hearing.
- The Council directed Mr X to us at the end of its appeal process. When Mr X contacted the Council again about the same matter it told him it must wait for our decision. There was no fault in the Council’s actions. I have seen no evidence the Council ignored Mr X’s communication about the matter.
- Within one month of this decision the Council agreed to ensure panel members make notes of their deliberations and provide parents with detailed explanations of its decision in the decision letter in line with the statutory guidance.
- I have completed my investigation. I found fault however I did not find that caused an injustice. The Council agreed to my recommendation for service improvement.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman