School transport

This fact sheet is aimed mainly at parents who have been refused help from the council with their child’s transport costs to school and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have been refused help with my child’s transport costs to school. Can I complain to the Ombudsman?

Yes, in some circumstances. The Ombudsman cannot question the council’s decision, if it took the decision properly and fairly. But we can consider your complaint if you think you were refused help unfairly, or because of a mistake, or because your request for help was not handled correctly. 

You can complain to the Ombudsman if your child goes to a 'qualifying school'. We cannot deal with complaints about transport to an independent (private) school, unless it is named in your child’s Education, Health and Care Plan.

How do I complain?

You should complete the council's Home to School Travel and Transport Review/Appeals process first. You will usually have to complete all review stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – it may take about 12-16 weeks – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your application for help. Some of the issues we can look at are that:

  • the council’s policy for providing help with transport is not objective, clear and fair
  • the council failed to apply their policy properly or fairly
  • the council did not take relevant information into account in reaching its decision, or took irrelevant information into account, or
  • the council delayed dealing with your application for help.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

If we find that something has gone wrong in the way your application was dealt with that might have affected the decision, we may:

  • ask the council to review its decision
  • ask the council reimburse travel costs you have already incurred, and/or
  • recommend that the council reviews its policy and/or procedures, so that the problems you experienced don’t keep happening to other parents.

What if my child has special educational needs?

The council may have responsibilities for helping with home to school transport where a child has special educational needs, whether there is an Education, Health and Care Plan or not. We can usually consider complaints where special educational needs are involved.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr and Mrs X complained the council failed to provide an escort to travel with their child to school although the council had assessed that an escort was necessary to make the transport arrangements ‘suitable’. Mrs X had to take on this role herself which meant she had to pay for another child to attend a breakfast club. The council accepted it was at fault but we found it failed to offer Mrs X a suitable remedy for the level of injustice caused. The council agreed to increase the financial remedy to Mrs X to reflect the expenses she had incurred as well as the inconvenience of having to act as her child’s escort.
Mr Y complained the council withdrew his daughter’s school transport when she changed schools although she is a wheelchair user. Mr Y complained the council had refused transport on the basis they lived within statutory walking distance although this was not the appropriate test where a child is disabled. We found the council had applied the wrong legal test of statutory distance but even when this was pointed out the council still failed to consider whether Mr Y’s daughter could walk and instead considered whether Mr Y could push her in a buggy or wheelchair. The council agreed to review the application and reinstated transport. It also provided a financial remedy to Mr Y for his mileage expenses and lost income.

Mr Z complained the council would not provide free home to school transport to his daughter when she started reception year at a primary school over two miles from their home. We found no evidence of fault by the council. It had followed its policy that transport would only be provided to children attending their nearest suitable school and living more than two miles from the school. Mr Z had declined a place at a nearer school and accepted a place at a further away school. We found the council had clearly publicised its policy in its guide on applying for school places so parents would be aware of the consequences of choosing a school which was not their nearest school with vacancies.

Other sources of information

For information about whether your child is likely to qualify for school transport, plus access to your education authority’s information about school transport go to www.gov.uk/government/publications/home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance

Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) have some specific guidance on their website at www.ipsea.org.uk/what-you-need-to-know/home-to-school-college-transport

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2019