School transport policy in Bucks to be reviewed after family wins test case

Ombudsman awards £7,000 to family who were denied free service.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 4:47 pm
Updated Monday, 12th October 2020, 4:48 pm
County Hall, Aylesbury
County Hall, Aylesbury

Buckinghamshire Council is being forced to review its decision not to backdate similar cases after a watchdog revealed the authority had failed to provide free home-to-school transport for two disabled siblings resulting in a four-figure payout.

The council has been accused of ‘keeping its head down’ and 'hoping no one else comes out of the woodwork' after choosing not to validate other historic cases of eligible families it might have failed to provide free school transportation for.

This follows a successful investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) which saw more than £7,000 awarded to the family of two children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) who were denied the free service ‘despite the council agreeing’ they were legally entitled to it.

And although council officers acknowledged there is the chance other families will come forward, they also vowed this would 'never happen again' and set a cut-off point for historic claims.

“A decision was clearly made not to backdate to the same period as this case or those who would have qualified in the same way,” said Cllr Jonathan Waters during a Standards and General Purposes Committee, on Thursday, October 8.

“That’s correct,” replied director of education Simon James.

“On what grounds?” asked Cllr Waters.

“We want to ensure there is consistency, and that all actions are completed in line with the requirements of the Ombudsman,” said Mr James.

In addition to the compensation, the watchdog also made several recommendations to be actioned by the council within six months. Among those are a review of its Home-to-School transport policy, and other parents’ and carers’ mileage arrangements.

On the issue of other affected families, Cllr Mike Stannard said: “I notice we’re only making good on that from September this year going forward.

“Is there any risk the council might be subject to anybody else coming out of the woodwork and making a claim on the basis they hear this claim has been made and there’s quite a substantial payout – what is the risk there could be others?”

Mr James said: “Yes, there is a small risk… and we’ve made potential provision for that.”

Cllr Stannard asked how many potential families, adding: “It smacks to me of keeping our heads down and hoping no one else comes out of the woodwork.

“Do we not feel we should be doing the right thing by these families, given we have been told very clearly by the LGO what we were doing was wrong?

“Should we not be putting it right for other people of our own volition rather than waiting to be caught by somebody?”

Mr James could not give precise figures and requested to “come back” with a “position” in December.

Cllr Alex Collingwood supported Cllr Stannard, urging other members not to sign off the report which claims several of the LGO requirements had been completed by the

council.

“I want to make sure we’ve got this fully dealt with,” he said.

“We’ve not actually come up with any viable alternative of providing proper transportation, which is part of our legal obligation.”

Members voted in the majority to delay approval of the report.