William Eichler 13 August 2020

Ombudsman criticises council for lack of transport for SEN pupils

Buckinghamshire County Council has been criticised for its lack of suitable school transport for children with special educational needs.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was asked to investigate a complaint after the council told a mother they did not have the right school transport to meet her child’s specific needs and then only paid her for half of her daily journey.

The child, who has sensory difficulties and high levels of anxiety, was eligible for free school transport to get to the school eight miles away. However, as well as not having suitable transport, the council only paid her for two legs of her daily journey to her child’s special school.

The mother, who also has another child with special educational needs, complained through the council’s appeal process, but ­­– according to the Ombudsman – this was flawed.

The council communicated poorly with the mother and demanded evidence it should have sought itself, the investigation found. At one point, it even requested information from the wrong school.

‘This case raises the question of whether the child was actually in receipt of the free transport they were eligible for, if the mother was out of pocket, and had no option but to provide it,’ said the Ombudsman, Michael King.

‘I am concerned the council does not have sufficient transport provision that they have a statutory duty to provide, so I have asked it to review its current services to see where improvements can be made.

‘I hope that by agreeing to carry out this recommendation, the council will ensure no other families are affected in future.’

According to the Ombudsman, the council has agreed to reimburse the mother for the mileage for the return journeys from September 2018, and pay for all four legs of the journey going forward.

It will also apologise and pay her £50 for each week she took the children to school from September 2018 in recognition of the time, trouble and anxiety it caused. The council will pay this until it can provide alternative transport for the children or the mother confirms she is happy to cover the additional cost of two legs.

Buckinghamshire County Council has been contacted for a response.

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