Wirral council asked to reconsider school transport decisions for children with special educational needs

Disabled children who had their specialist transport to school taken away from them are to have their cases reconsidered following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

The children, who attend a variety of schools in the Wirral area, had all received school transport before Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council wrote to their parents telling them they would no longer receive help getting to school because they were no longer eligible.

The families of the four children involved in the LGO investigation appealed to Wirral council, and provided evidence supporting their children’s eligibility for transport. This was either because of mobility issues or health and safety problems brought on by the nature of their special educational needs.

In three cases the council refused to provide transport, and in one case it changed the transport it offered, despite none of the children’s circumstances changing from when the council had provided support.

In one case a teenager who has autism and other difficulties was told instead of getting a taxi funded by the council, he should get to school via a route which involved walking for a mile down a partly unlit route, catching a train and then getting on a bus. This, despite the fact the boy’s conditions mean he has a significantly reduced awareness of danger and a problem with loud noises.

In another case a boy whose autism and moderate learning difficulties mean he is in receipt of the higher rate mobility Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was told he would no longer receive a seat on a minibus to take him to school.

In this case the boy’s consultant had told the council that, due to his disability, he would refuse to walk. The council said the boy had no mobility problems, but provided no evidence that he could actually walk to school.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found problems with the way the original decisions were made and how the subsequent appeals were considered by the council. The letters sent to parents following their appeals failed to explain why their supporting evidence was not sufficient to show they needed transport.

Michael King, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“The way the council went about removing school transport in these cases caused distress to the families involved. These children were more acutely affected by a sudden change to their routines because of their special educational needs, and the parents could not understand why their level of support had changed, when their circumstances had not.

“In future if the council intends to apply its school transport policy in a different way, it needs to be more transparent in explaining this to families, and clearly evidence the decisions it comes to.

“However I am pleased Wirral council has agreed to reconsider the families’ cases and now urge it to carry out its reviews swiftly and robustly. I have also asked the council to consider whether other families were affected by the faults we identified.”

The council has agreed to apologise to all four families and provide them with a financial remedy. This is in recognition of the time and trouble they went to in bringing their complaints to the Ombudsman and to acknowledge the additional costs they incurred as they had a legitimate expectation their child would receive transport for the whole of the remaining school year.

The council has also agreed to make new transport decisions for three of the four families involved in the complaint. One family has already had the transport reinstated. It will review the decisions made on the additional nine appeals identified during the investigation, which it refused. The council will also review its school transport appeal procedure.

Article date: 23 February 2017