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Mum left in debt after council stopped autistic son’s school transport

A Nottingham mum was left unable to pay her bills when she had to pay for a taxi to get her son to his special school, because the city council withdrew his free transport, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The single mum, who is on a low income, had been receiving free taxis to take her son to school. But when the family moved house, the council stopped his transport without taking proper account of his mobility problems or his special needs, which include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Despite the mother twice appealing against the council’s decision, reapplying for transport when he moved schools and appealing twice more, the council maintained its decision was correct. This led to the boy being out of school for 11 months as the mother could not afford to pay for the taxi.

The ombudsman’s investigation criticised the council for not taking into account professional evidence when assessing whether the boy qualified for free transport. It did not consider the potential implications for the boy’s schooling when it withdrew transport mid-year and gave the mother no notice of the change. The investigation also found the council at fault for the way it carried out the mother’s appeal hearings.

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

“In this case the council withdrew the taxi it had previously considered necessary to get the boy to school after the family moved closer to his school. But it did not properly question whether the boy could walk or get to school using public transport, despite strong evidence suggesting this was not possible because of his behavioural difficulties and physical problems.

“This has caused serious distress and hardship to the family and is likely to have significantly affected the boy’s education and his personal development.

“I welcome the council agreeing to my recommendations. The procedural changes it will make should help ensure other children with Special Educational Needs do not miss out on education because they are simply unable to get to school.”

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 reimburse the costs she incurred getting her son to school by taxi – totalling £1,511. It will also pay her £300 for the time and trouble in making the complaint and a further £1,000 to reflect the distress and difficulty the family faced when the council removed the transport.

Additionally, the council will also pay the mother £5,500 to remedy the impact on the son of his lost schooling.

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 procedures to ensure decisions on school transport, and appeals against those decisions, are dealt with properly.

Article date: 03 December 2020