Council rapped for failing to meet student’s SEND transport costs

Expert warns 'most local authorities are trying to cut costs' through post-16 SEND transport

Expert warns 'most local authorities are trying to cut costs' through post-16 SEND transport

15 Jun 2023, 18:10

More from this author

A mother has been awarded almost £3,500 in compensation after a council refused to pay to transport her son, who suffers with anxiety, to college.

The young adult, who has an education, health and care plan, spent three academic years being driven to and from college by his family as Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council “failed to recognise its duty to arrange free transport”, a report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found.

The review also highlighted an inadequate appeals process and poor record-keeping that led to long delays in addressing the mother’s concerns.

The council has agreed to apologise to the mother and reimburse her fuel costs and for the “distress, uncertainty and time and trouble” caused.

Local authorities do not have to provide free or subsidised post-16 travel support but have a duty to “encourage, enable and assist young people with learning difficulties/disabilities (SEND) to participate in education, up to the age of 25”, according to government guidance.

Young people with SEND qualify for free transport where a council assesses that, in order to attend education, they require transport arranged by the local authority.

Ali Fiddy, a solicitor and chief executive of the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA), said post-16 SEND transport was an area where “most local authorities are trying to cut costs by changing or limiting the offer”.

In a speech at the NATSPEC annual conference this week, she described the issue as a “real lottery” and “worrying issue” for families once their child leaves school at age 16. She said it was “very difficult to challenge” a council when it refuses to provide free travel for SEND learners in further education.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman reported that the young adult in Stock-on-Tees was originally travelling to college in shared transport, paid for by the council. But, when his mother said it was no longer suitable because of his anxiety, the council failed to “properly consider the mother’s concerns or make other suitable arrangements”.

The ombudsman found the council’s post-16 transport policy “was not in line with its statutory duties”, adding that the council should have provided transport free of charge “if it considered transport necessary”. Instead it required a contribution from the mother.

The investigation also found the council’s appeals process did not follow statutory guidance – it did not offer a hearing at stage two of the complaints process, and then did not direct people who were unhappy to the ombudsman.

Additionally, the ombudsman criticised the council’s poor record-keeping: it did not have a central system for recording decisions, which would have allowed these to be accessed after staff left.

Paul Najsarek, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The council’s responses to my enquiries, and its current transport policy, leaves me concerned that there are systematic issues in Stockton that may be affecting other young adult learners who have education, health and care plans.

“I am also particularly concerned that the council is not signposting parents to my office if they are unhappy with the outcome of any complaint about its appeals process.

“I am therefore pleased the council has accepted my recommendations to improve its processes and policies to ensure other young adults – and their families – are treated fairly and in line with statutory guidance.”

Stockton-on-Tees council has now agreed to pay the mother £3,432.50.

The council has also agreed to amend its letters, templates and policies to ensure they fall in line with statutory guidance and refer people to the ombudsman, and provide training and guidance to staff responsible for school and college transport on its new policy.

Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said: “We recognise the findings of the ombudsman and have offered our apologies to Ms X, who we will also reimburse for fuel costs. 

“Steps have now been taken to ensure this does not happen again, including updating the relevant policy and procedures.” 

Latest education roles from

Work Placement Officer

Work Placement Officer

Barnsley College

Accountancy & Finance Trainer

Accountancy & Finance Trainer

Barnsley College

Course Leader – Construction and the Built Environment

Course Leader – Construction and the Built Environment

Barnsley College

Student Community Officer

Student Community Officer

Kingston College

Sessional Italian Tutor

Sessional Italian Tutor

Croydon Adult Learning & Training (CALAT)

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Stoke on Trent College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Ofsted, SEND

Specialist arts college strikes the right chord with Ofsted ‘outstanding’

Inspectors said the college empowers young adults with special needs to progress into the world of work

Josh Mellor
Long read, SEND

The high cost pressures of safety valve deals

Cash-strapped local authorities are under pressure through safety valve deals to place high-needs young people in placements that may...

Jessica Hill
Colleges, SEND

SEND colleges slam ‘unwieldy’ English and maths resit reforms

Dropouts likely to increase and stress made worse for vulnerable learners, leaders warn

Anviksha Patel
Apprenticeships, SEND

Relax functional skills rules for autistic apprentices, says ex-minister

Many autistic people "struggle" to complete higher level apprenticeships due to maths and English tests, the ex-minister said

Josh Mellor

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *