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Ombudsman criticises council after cancellation of transport sees teenager with autism miss start of term

A council has agreed to pay more than £2,400 in compensation after an investigation from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the termination of a child’s transport to school.

According to a report from the Ombudsman, the teenager – who has autism and attends a special school – missed the start of the school year because Surrey County Council did not tell his mum she needed to reapply for transport.

The boy's mother found out the contract for her son's taxi was cancelled just a day before her son was due to return to his school's sixth form, leaving her to fork out £2,400 in fares until the support was reinstated.

The mother said the council had cancelled the taxi without notice, and it was the taxi firm rather than the council who told her of the cancellation. She said it had been agreed in her son's annual review of his Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan that his transport would continue and she had not been told she needed to reapply for the new school year when he moved to post-16 education.

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Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "I welcome the proactive way the council has responded to remedying the complaint for the family, and its willingness to review how its services can be improved in future.

"However, I have some concern that there may be others affected by what went wrong during the same period, so I have asked it to write to those families and invite them to make a retrospective application for transport, and reimburse them too where necessary."

In response to the watchdog's concerns, the council has agreed to write to the family of any young person with SEND who was receiving travel assistance before a move to further education between September 2018 and 2019 inviting them to make a retrospective application where necessary.

On top of the £2,400 to cover the mother's taxi fares, the council has also agreed to pay a further £250 in compensation for the distress and uncertainty caused and for the trouble in bringing the complaint.

It has also agreed to ensure it tells parents of children in Year 11 who have EHC Plans to apply for post 16 transport.

A spokesperson for Surrey County Council said it "wholly accepts the recommendations of the Ombudsman".

They added: "A thorough review is now underway, with the council working closely with families, schools and transport providers to ensure the correct information is available in a timely fashion, and that incidents of this nature do not happen again in the future."

The council claimed that improving the home-to-school transport system for SEND children has been an ongoing priority for the council – and currently, £32m per year is spent on transporting 6,405 pupils to and from school, funded wholly out of council tax receipts.

As part of the council’s effort, a new policy was introduced in September this year aimed at fostering the "skills and confidence" students need to use a variety of transport to and from school.

Adam Carey

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