Council calls a halt to taxi runs for children with special needs

Council-funded taxi trips for Havering school children with special needs are set to end under town hall plans published last week.

Havering Council, which has a multi-million-pound budget deficit, is proposing to stop paying for taxis for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and cut the number of bus journeys it funds.

It has tabled a new transport policy that will prioritise the most “cost-effective” option, encourage carpooling and promote direct payments so parents can “organise their own”.

The council says it will also introduce “clear eligibility criteria” to “significantly reduce” how many school bus trips it funds.

Cabinet member for children and young people Oscar Ford said the changes are part of the council’s “drive to control expenditure” by replacing taxi and bus costs with personal budgets that “better meet the needs” of children.

The proposals will go out for public consultation before receiving final approval by cabinet at a later date.

In 2022/23, the council spent about £5.5million – double its budget – on transporting eligible children to school, often by taxi or bus, and sometimes with the extra expense of a personal passenger assistant.

The council spent £3.6m on taxis and buses in 2019/20.

The council says it has experienced a “significant and continued increase” in the number of residents with Education Health and Care Plans (ECHP), with the total jumping more than 60 per cent to 2,189 between 2018 and 2022.

A report on the proposed policy before cabinet last week set out a breakdown of savings that can be made, which the council hopes will add up to £1.4m over the next four years.

The most expensive daily taxi charge the council funds is for 16 miles per day, with a passenger assistant escort, costing the council about £45,000 per school year.

Under the new policy, fuel reimbursement or an UBER trip would cost about £30 per day, costing about £5,500 per year.

A council assessment of the policy’s impact concluded that disabled children will see a “positive outcome” because “appropriate measures” will be put into place to accommodate them.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter