Ombudsman issues rare further report into Medway Council

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has made the rare move to issue a further report because Medway Council has not implemented the Ombudsman's recommendations or followed the correct process to disagree with them.

The Ombudsman decided in September 2017 the council should provide school transport for a girl in its area because she was attending the nearest suitable school with places available.

The investigation found Medway’s Home to School Transport Policy did not comply with statutory guidance because it did not properly consider whether places were available at the nearest school. The council was asked to provide transport for the girl, reimburse her mother’s incurred costs taking her to school and review its school transport policy.

The council initially accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations. It then decided not to revise its policy or backdate payment for some of the transport costs because, it argued, its transport policy is lawful. Medway did agree to provide transport from September 2017 because a previously unavailable footpath had come into use which meant the girl was now attending the nearest school.

When the council failed to comply with the remedy it had agreed, the Ombudsman issued a public interest report in March 2019. In that report, the council was criticised for not amending its policy or backdating the transport costs incurred. Medway was asked to implement the remedy it had already agreed, and make an additional payment to the family for the delay.

The council’s Cabinet considered the report, but refused to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations, which the council had previously accepted. It did so based on a selective use of external advice and a flawed understanding of how it must respond to an Ombudsman decision.

The law says the council cannot now refuse to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations because it disagrees with the Ombudsman’s original findings. Had it wished to challenge those findings, the only way to have done so was by judicial review of the initial decision made in September 2017.

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

“As the council decided it was not appropriate to challenge us by judicial review and it is now out of time to do so, it must accept our findings. Its response suggests it is attempting to reject the findings in our original decision, rather than the recommendations in the subsequent public interest report.

“The council will find, by looking at our casework, it is the exception to the rule in taking this procedurally flawed approach. I therefore call on it to familiarise itself with its duties and to put in place the changes I have recommended to ensure it complies fully with the process.”

Article date: 17 January 2020

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