East Sussex County Council has been asked to review its policy for providing home to college transport for young adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman criticised the way it dealt with a family’s situation.
The family complained to the Ombudsman after the council refused to provide their adult son with the full five days of travel to get to the college named in his Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.
The man, who has a moderate to severe learning disability, was 19 when he started his college placement. The council told the family it would only offer the man four days a week transport, and his parents could take him on the fifth, as they had been doing until their work patterns changed. The family appealed the decision, but the council’s position remained the same.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found problems with the council’s policy on home to school transport, as it does not accurately reflect what the law says. This means any appeal against the council’s decision by parents is being looked at by a panel using that flawed policy.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Parents cannot be expected to ensure their adult children attend education, in the same way they have a legal obligation for younger children, so councils cannot insist they drive their young adults to college.
“The law gives councils a duty to provide free transport to people aged 19 or over, where they decide it is necessary. But in this case, the policy’s starting point suggested it is the family who are expected to provide transport.
“This meant the council may not have been looking at the family’s case on its own merits when making a decision about whether or not to provide full transport.
“I now call on East Sussex council to carefully consider my report and accept the recommendations I have made to improve its services for adult learners across the county.”
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 should apologise to the parents and pay them £300 for the uncertainty caused.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should review the cases of young adults (aged between 19 and 25) who have an EHC Plan naming a setting, and who were refused transport at appeal in 2018 and 2019. It should consider if these people have been similarly affected.
It should also revise its policy on post-16 SEND travel and ensure it properly reflects the test set out in law, and the difference between the approaches it should be taking for young people aged between 16-18, and those over 19.
Article date: 25 February 2020