Birmingham City Council has agreed to revise its home to school transport policy and review all its decisions to issue a travel pass over the past three years following several complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found the parents of children with a travel pass, in two investigations, had to accompany their children to school because their child could not manage the journey independently.
The Ombudsman said the children should have been eligible for free transport as they lived more than statutory walking distance from their nearest suitable school, and the council could not insist the parents accompanied their children. The council also failed to demonstrate how the journey to school would be safe and reasonably stress free for either child.
In both cases the Ombudsman found inadequate record keeping. It also found the council did not follow statutory guidance as it did not invite the parents to their stage two appeals and its policy at the time did not allow them to make either verbal or written representations.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The problems I have found with Birmingham City Council’s home to school transport policy have had a significant effect on both families, with the children’s education suffering as a result.
“Free must mean free, but despite being offered ‘free public transport’ in both cases the parents incurred extra costs because this was not safe, and they had to take their children to school either by taxi or using their own car.
“I am concerned that the very similar faults I have found in these cases mean it is possible other families have been similarly affected. Other parents and carers may have also incurred costs to access the transport their children are entitled to.
“I am pleased Birmingham City Council has agreed to review its policy and recent decisions on this matter, which should ensure other parents are not left out of pocket and inconvenienced by inappropriate decision making.”
In the first case, the council refused a mother’s application for school transport for her daughter, who has autistic spectrum disorder and attends a special school. The mother said the daughter needed school transport because her behaviour was ‘extremely challenging’.
The mother could not take her on public transport as there was no direct bus route to her school, and it would be particularly difficult taking her on multiple buses as she used a special needs pushchair. She said her daughter could hurt herself and react physically when she becomes upset. She asked the council to provide her with a taxi or minibus to school.
Despite the information given, the council decided the daughter could travel on public transport and said her parents should accompany her to school. In August 2019 the council dismissed her mother’s appeal. In April 2020 the Council overturned the original decision and offered the girl a place on a minibus.
In the second case, a mother applied for school transport for her teenage son to get to his special school. She told the council her son was ‘high risk’, had no social skills, needed constant supervision, and could become physical when distressed. She said neither she nor her husband could take her son to school because her other children with additional or complex needs also needed to be taken to school, and she had her own physical and mental health difficulties.
Instead of offering the son a place on school transport, the family was offered a travel pass to use on public transport and told to accompany him to school. The boy would have had to catch three buses to get to school, which would leave him confused. The mother appealed the council’s decision, and included information from her son’s paediatrician, but the council concluded there were “no exceptional circumstances”.
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 both families.
In the first family’s case, it will pay the mother £150 for her time and trouble and repay any costs she incurred to transport her child to school. It will also pay £250 for the stress and inconvenience caused, and a further £500 to recognise the impact the failure to provide suitable home to school transport had on her child accessing education.
In the second family’s case, it has agreed to pay the mother £150 for her time and trouble and a further £300 to recognise the stress and inconvenience caused. It will also review the family’s application and offer the son an alternative means of school transport which does not require his parents to accompany him, and pay the mother reasonable travel expenses from 13 March 2019.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will remind officers about their duties under the law when making decisions about home to school transport applications and appeals.
It will also revise its home to school transport policy and review all decisions it has made to issue travel passes since September 2018.
Article date: 25 June 2021