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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 us 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

Ms X complained the council failed to carry out a proper investigation into an incident where a driver told her child, who has autism and learning difficulties, to get off the school bus when he became distressed due to the bus being delayed. The driver falsely stated he had left the child in the care of school staff. Ms X withdrew her child from school transport due to safeguarding concerns. We found the council’s investigation was flawed as it failed to review CCTV evidence which supported the child’s account they were left unsupervised. We also found the council did not follow the correct transport appeal process. The council accepted fault and agreed to transport Ms X’s child by taxi in future. It also refunded Ms X’s expenses for the period of delay when unsuitable transport arrangements were in place and agreed to review its transport policy. 
Mrs Y complained about the way the council considered her son’s application for post-16 transport to his special school. The council’s policy said it offered support to this age group where a young person was unable to use public transport, even when accompanied, and attended an institution named in an Education, Health and Care Plan. Mrs Y provided evidence her son was unsafe to use public transport and that he would have to get three buses and his journey would take over two hours. The council felt it needed more information from the NHS learning disability team, but then refused the application without seeking this information or telling Ms Y it intended to get more evidence. This meant Mrs Y’s son was unable to attend school for a period. We found the council at fault as it had decided the case without evidence it considered relevant, without giving adequate reasons and without showing how its decision met the statutory guidance. After reviewing the case the council agreed to provide transport and also paid a financial remedy for lost education and expenses.
Ms Z complained the council would not provide free home to school transport to the family’s preferred choice of secondary school. 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. Ms Z’s child was not attending the nearest suitable school and the appeal panel had considered her reasons for attending a further away school but did not consider these were exceptional enough to depart from the usual policy.

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.

We provide 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 we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

November 2020