A council has expressed surprise at a ruling by the local government Ombudsman which criticised its transport policy for adult learners with special educational needs (SEND).
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) launched an investigation in response to a family’s complaint that East Sussex County Council had 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 council told the family it would only offer the 19-year-old man, who has a moderate to severe learning disability, 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 that the council’s policy on home to school transport does not accurately reflect what the law says.
‘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,’ Ombudsman Michael King said.
‘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.’
Mr King recommended that the council review the cases of 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 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.
Mr King concluded that the council should apologise to the parents and pay them £300 for the uncertainty caused.
A spokesperson for East Sussex County Council said they were ‘extremely surprised’ at the ruling because the Ombudsman had considered another case relating to the same issue in 2018 and found no fault with the policy.
‘It is concerning that we are being criticised for following a policy that the Ombudsman had previously confirmed as being lawful. The public and local authorities should be able to expect decisions of the LGSCO to be consistent,’ the spokesperson said.
‘We don’t intend to comment on the individual circumstances of the case except to say that the family are receiving the transport that they applied for. The report will be now be considered by the governance committee and lead member.’