Council ordered to pay mum of autistic son after school transport row

Barking and Dagenham Council has been ordered to pay more than £2,000 to a mum after it failed to provide her autistic son with school transport. The council must pay the mum, known only as Mrs X in an ombudsman report, £300 for the injustice caused and an extra £2,275 to cover the cost of daily transport from January 2022 to April 2022.

Mrs X said she experienced “considerable stress” after the council “wrongly refused” her application for school transport to her son’s school which was named in his education, health and care (EHC) plan. In 2018, the council granted an EHCP for Mrs X’s son, C, who is autistic and lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning difficulties.

Within the plan the council listed a mainstream primary school for child C but this was later appealed by Mrs X as she wanted her son to go to a specialist school. The council addressed Mrs X’s appeal and named the specialist school in the EHCP on the condition that “the parents agree to provide all transport to and from school”.

In October 2020 Mrs X applied to the council for school transport for her child, but it was rejected because the council said C was not attending his nearest school. Mrs X raised an appeal regarding the council’s decision and this was upheld.

By December 2021, Mrs X told the council she could not take her son to school because she also had to take her other children to school. The ombudsman said: “[Mrs X] said C would be unable to make the journey to school on public transport unaccompanied. Further she stated there was no alternative suitable placement for C.”

However, the council rejected this as it said C was not attending his nearest suitable school and argued his mum had agreed to provide transport.

In January 2022, Mrs X’s lawyers raised concerns about the council’s rejection and said it had not considered the reasons why Mrs X could no longer provide transport and that there were no suitable alternative schools.

The council responded a month later and said parental working arrangements and taking other children to school was not considered a sufficient justification under its discretionary power of providing transport for non-eligible children.

According to the ombudsman report: “The council offered to pay Mrs X £43.75 per day for the transport costs from April 19 until the end of term. It made three payments to her in May, June and July amounting to £2,586.07. In July the council agreed to arrange transport from September 2022.”

The ombudsman said: “I recognise the council provided Mrs X with £43.75 per day from April onwards, which minimises some of the impact on her. However, without council arranged transport she still had the stress and frustration of providing the transport herself during that time and the costs of transport between December 2021 and April 2022.”

The ombudsman said the council did not follow its own policy of reviewing the EHCP after Mrs X had informed the council that she could no longer provide transport for her son. The ombudsman said: “The council should have reviewed the placement. The council has not provided me with any evidence it discussed this policy with Mrs X or carried out a review following this.”

It added: “This is fault. When the council carried out its review later in 2022 it concluded that C was attending the appropriate school for his age, ability and needs.”

The ombudsman said the council must “remind staff of its policy to review EHC plan placements when a parent raises concerns that they can no longer provide transport to a school of parental preference”.

It must also provide training to council staff on the requirements needed for parental funded transport outlined and must report back to the ombudsman with evidence that it has carried out all of the actions.

A spokesperson for Barking and Dagenham Council told the LDRS: “The council accepts the decision by the local government ombudsman in full. We have responded and made remedies as outlined in the judgement.”

They added: “A barrister, who specialises in legislation around transport and special educational needs, has since provided training for all the relevant staff within the council, so that a similar issue is prevented and officers are aware of what is expected.”

Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter