Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 08 Jun 2022
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint about the Council’s decision not to provide her son with free transport to school. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council for us to be able to question the merits of its decisions.
- Miss X complains about the decision not to provide her son 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 Miss X’s complaint, information from the Council, and the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
What I found
- Miss X’s son (Y) is in Year 7. Miss X moved address and asked the Council to provide Y with free transport to his school (School Z). The Council refused Miss X’s application. It said the walking distance from Miss X’s home to School Z was less than the required three miles.
- Councils must apply their published policy when deciding entitlement to transport assistance. But they also have the discretion to consider exceptional circumstances. They must have a review or appeal process by which to do so.
- Miss X appealed the Council’s decision. She explained the drive to school was over three miles and it was not safe for Y to walk to school alone. Miss X explained the difficulties it would cause if the Council did not provide free transport.
- Miss X’s appeal was refused, and she asked for it to be considered at the final stage of the Council’s appeals process. A panel of two councillors considered Miss X’s appeal. A third councillor could not take part because they were not well.
- The Council explained why it had refused Miss X’s request. It said there was a safe walking route to School Z which was less than three miles. Miss X had the opportunity to present her case and the panel asked questions. The panel considered the information it was presented with. The panel refused Miss X’s appeal. It found there was a safe walking route which was less than three miles and there were no exceptional circumstances meaning the Council should provide free transport. The panel’s letter to Miss X explained its decision.
- Miss X disagrees with the panel’s decision. But this is not evidence of fault. The Ombudsman is not an appeal body, and we cannot criticise a properly made decision or intervene to substitute an alternative view. As I explain in paragraph 3, we can only criticise a council’s decision if there was fault in the way it was reached.
- Children who attend and live more than three miles away from the nearest qualifying school are entitled to free transport. Free transport is also available if the distance to school is less than three miles, and the walk to school is not safe for a child “accompanied as necessary”. Where a child is not eligible for free transport, their parents are responsible for arranging transport.
- The Council has applied its transport policy which reflects the above statutory requirements. There is no indication of fault in the way it did this or in how it reached the decision Y does not qualify for free transport. Appeal panels are entitled to make their own judgements on the information before them. They need to look at each case on its merits.
- The evidence available shows the panel reached a decision it was entitled to, taking into account the information it was presented with. The decision letter to Miss X explained the key issues the panel had considered and how it had reached its decision.
- Based on the evidence available, it is unlikely an investigation would find enough fault with the way the Council has acted to question the decisions reached. We will not therefore investigate.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council for us to be able to question the merits of its decisions.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman