City council to review transport policy for adults with special educational needs following Ombudsman investigation

A Birmingham mother had to drive five hours a day to take her adult son, who had ‘severe and critical needs’, to his specialist college, because Birmingham City Council did not provide him with transport, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The 20-year-old, who has autism and suffers from anxiety, was due to attend a college for an additional year and had previously had an escort to accompany him.

The council declined his mother’s application for school transport, saying it was her responsibility to transport her son to college. She appealed this decision.

She frequently chased the council for updates because it was important for her son to have time to adapt to any changes to avoid causing him significant distress.

Despite this, it was not until 8.58pm of the evening before he was due to start college in September it told her the appeal had not been successful and it would not provide transport assistance. She first applied in the February.

The mother had to take the five-hour round trip to take her son to college every day. She did this without support because the council failed to provide a guide. Previous assessments had agreed the son needed a guide.

She had to reduce her working hours and was, medical practitioners said, at risk of violent outbursts from her son. One practitioner said the mother must have found the situation frightening because of the son’s physical stature. She was also concerned his independence skills were being impacted upon.

Despite the mother making regular contact with the council, it was not until February 2018 – a year after first applying – the council agreed to fund the son’s transport and backdate that to the start of the academic year. However, this was still without a guide to accompany him on his journey.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found numerous faults with the way the council dealt with the mother’s application. It found there was unacceptable delay in dealing with her request, and poor communication when processing it. The report has also criticised the council’s record keeping, and for failing to complete a carer’s assessment of the mother’s needs.

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

“Any parent wants the best for their children and this mother is no exception. But the child’s or young adult’s welfare should not come at such a great cost to the parents.

“We have previously said councils cannot offload the responsibility of school transport onto parents, who have their own demands on their time, and are under no obligation to meet the needs of another adult. This is true in this case too.

“I welcome the council’s readiness to accept my recommendations to improve its services and hope the steps it will now take will prevent other families from facing the same situation.”

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 her son and pay the mother £1,000 to acknowledge the distress she suffered pursuing the council for support. It will pay her a further £800 to acknowledge the risk of harm to her during the period in question and £300 in acknowledgment of the time and trouble the mother was put to in pursuing the complaint.

The council has also agreed to pay the son £1,500 to acknowledge the distress and anxiety he suffered during the year he was unsupported by the council.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case, the council has agreed to implement the findings of its current consultation on transport policy, and ensure applicants are clearly signposted to any revised policy.

It has also agreed to review all transitional cases and write to those affected. It will review its policies and procedures around providing escorts, to ensure risk assessments are carried out in good time, and it will review its policies on carer’s assessments to ensure staff are aware when carers need support.

Article date: 02 May 2019