Council agrees to address its lack of suitable school transport for children with Special Needs

Buckinghamshire County Council has agreed to look at the transport it has available to take children with Special Educational Needs to school, after it left one mother out of pocket when she had no alternative but to take her child to school every day.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was asked to investigate a mother’s complaint after she was only paid for two legs of her daily journeys to her child’s special school when Buckinghamshire council told her it did not have the right transport, because of the child’s specific needs.

The child, who has sensory difficulties and high levels of anxiety, was eligible for free school transport to get to the school eight miles away. But instead of paying the mother for all four legs of the daily journeys, the mother only received half the amount.

The mother, who also has another child with Special Educational Needs, complained through the council’s appeal process, but this was flawed. It communicated poorly with her and demanded evidence it should have sought itself. And at one point it even requested information from the wrong school.

The Ombudsman’s investigation criticised the way the council handled the appeal, which was delayed. It found there was not enough evidence to support the council’s claimed actions during the delay period.

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

“This case raises the question of whether the child was actually in receipt of the free transport they were eligible for, if the mother was out of pocket, and had no option but to provide it.

“I am concerned the council does not have sufficient transport provision that they have a statutory duty to provide, so I have asked it to review its current services to see where improvements can be made.

“I hope that by agreeing to carry out this recommendation, the council will ensure no other families are affected in future.”

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 reimburse the mother for the mileage for the return journeys from September 2018, and pay for all four legs of the journey going forward.

It will also apologise and pay her £50 for each week she took the children to school from September 2018 in recognition of the time, trouble and anxiety it caused. It will pay this until it can provide alternative transport for the children or, if at that point, the mother confirms she is happy to cover the additional cost of two legs.

It will also assess the mother’s second child to consider whether it can provide suitable alternative transport, if it cannot do so, it should pay all four legs of the journeys.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its school transport policy and guidance to ensure it reflects its statutory duty to provide free transport, and states it will pay the full costs of transport to parents where it is unable to provide suitable transport. But if the parent can provide transport and voluntarily agrees to a mileage arrangement, this will cover two legs of the journey.

It will also review other parents’ and carers’ mileage arrangements, and if it finds other parents are similarly affected it should pay the mileage costs for all four legs of the journey and take action to address its apparent lack of suitable transport provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Article date: 13 August 2020