Council school transport policies must not fail young adults with disabilities

Councils across England should ensure their education transport policies properly support young adults with disabilities, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The warning comes following an investigation about London Borough of Lewisham, in which the council insisted a mother take her adult son to college using his Motability car, rather than consider providing him with transport.

The mother complained to the Ombudsman that she was not able to return to work, even though she told the council she was unwilling to drive her son to the college identified in his Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, when he turned 19.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for not following law and statutory guidance, which requires councils to provide free transport, where necessary, to enable young adults up to 25 attend their named college, and prevents councils making unreasonable demands of family carers.

The Ombudsman also found the council at fault in many other aspects of the support it provided to the man, including:

  • Delay in his social care assessment before he turned 18
  • Failing to assess his care needs during his EHC assessment
  • Failing to consider many aspects of his social care assessment once he became an adult, including mental capacity, transport and care needs during the holidays and days when he was not at college
  • Delay in transferring his Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) to an EHC Plan
  • Delay in completing his SEN personal budget (which meant he missed out on additional therapies)
  • Inaccurate statements it made about the use of the young man’s Motability car and mobility benefits

The council also failed to consider the mother’s needs as a carer.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said:

“Where a college is named in a young adult’s EHC Plan, a council must consider how the young person will travel to college and whether it needs to provide free transport to ensure they can attend.

“Councils across the country should have policies explicitly stating what transport support they will provide for these young adults. They cannot offload the responsibility onto parents, when they have their own demands on their time, and are under no obligation to meet the needs of another adult.

“I would urge other councils across the country to use the lessons from this report to  scrutinise their own transport policies and ensure they meet the latest guidance.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and son and retake its decision on whether it should provide him with transport. It will also review the family’s care assessment.

It will a pay the mother £100 a week from September 2016, until new arrangements are put in place, to recognise her time and expenses providing unpaid care to transport her son. It will also pay the mother £1,500 in recognition of the seven months delay in providing social care support between September 2016 and March 2017 and a further £300 for her time and trouble pursuing the complaint.

Additionally, it will pay the son £300 for the loss of one term’s additional therapist input due to the delayed EHC assessment and subsequent appeal.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to update its Local Offer to show how it assesses eligibility for transport for post-19 learners.

The council has also agreed to consider whether it needs to change other policies and guidance, or provide refresher training, to ensure:

  • EHC assessments are carried out in a timely way;
  • it has the correct mediation arrangements in place and the correct information available to officers and families; and
  • transition planning is in place that considers the care needs of young people before they reach 18, and the changing needs of their carers.

Article date: 02 August 2018

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