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Derbyshire schoolgirls move within same village and lose school bus pass

Our investigation report highlights how councils should operate a fair and accessible school transport review process.

Two Derbyshire sisters unfairly lost the funding for their school bus passes when they moved house within the same village, an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has found.

The sisters, who attended a faith primary school in a neighbouring village, had been eligible for help getting to school. But when they moved home, the county council told their parents they would now have to pay - despite getting the same bus, from the same bus stop.

Derbyshire County Council said that although the family told the girls’ school about the change in address, this information was not passed to County Hall. When the council became aware of the move it wrote to the family telling them they now had to pay for their bus passes. This was because the council’s school transport policy said the family would now be treated as new applicants for funding.

The family appealed the decision but the council did not take on board the family’s financial circumstances and the impact the situation would have on the family’s budget. The council continued to send the family invoices for the transport despite their situation being under review.

Our investigation also found that presentation of the council’s school transport policy was confusing. Information on entitlement to faith school transport and how it can be lost is included in the council’s guide to school admissions but it is not included in the council’s detailed policy document on school transport.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“This report demonstrates the need for councils to have a fair approach to reviewing school transport decisions. In this case, there was no evidence the council considered whether the family’s move was deemed a significant change, and its policy affected the review panel’s ability to use its discretion and take into account financial circumstances.

“The council also failed to ensure its policy information was accessible – I do not accept that a family should be expected to know that different parts of a policy are to be found in two distinct and different documents, and base significant financial decisions on this knowledge.”

We have recommended the council review its decision to withdraw transport from the two girls and give proper consideration to the family’s financial circumstances. As part of the review the council should also consider reimbursing the family the cost of the bus passes that they have already paid and restoring a free pass to the younger daughter.

The council has also been asked to apologise to the family and review its transport policy and procedure.

Article date: 02 October 2014