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Leicestershire County Council to reimburse mother’s school transport costs following Ombudsman investigation

Leicestershire County Council has agreed to refund a mother’s school transport costs after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found flaws in the way it handled her application.

The mother had appealed an unsuccessful application for school transport costs for her teenage son, who has disabilities and attends the post-16 section of a special school.

The council upheld her appeal, but the mother complained the council refused to backdate the money she paid for her son’s transport while the council considered her appeal, despite her having spent more than £7,000.

The Ombudsman investigated the mother’s complaint and found faults with the process the council used for both the application for transport, and for considering the appeal of the decision.

The investigation found the council took too long to reach its initial decision on the family’s school transport application, and that the information provided to parents about timescales was misleading.

The information provided by the council on its website about the appeals process was also criticised by the investigation, which found a link to the appeals process did not work, and so parents had to find the forms on the website themselves. It also found problems with the length of time the council took to consider the appeal, which meant the hearing took place after the school year started.

Additionally, the family incurred a significant financial cost as the council took three months to arrange provision after their appeal in the October.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“When carrying out assessments and appeals for any services, councils need to ensure transparency, timeliness and accountability. But in this case Leicestershire’s school transport process was beset by delay and a lack of clear information.

“This investigation also found that this process was inherently inferior for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. Because their places are decided later in the year they have been disproportionately affected and less likely to have their appeals heard in time for transport to be put in place for the start of term.

“I am pleased Leicestershire County Council has taken on board my findings, and hope the changes it has agreed to make to its application and appeal process will ensure other children and young people with disabilities will not be adversely affected in future.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council will apologise to the family and reimburse the costs they incurred minus the personal transport budget payments received. It will also pay them £500 to recognise the avoidable distress caused by the council’s poor handling of their application and appeal.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will ensure information provided to applicants is accurate. It will also consider providing information relating to SEND transport in the relevant policy and will also consider looking at its systems to ensure any issues identified can be dealt with promptly.

It will also meet the costs of transport following a successful appeal, if it is unable to arrange suitable transport within a reasonable time, and where a parent is meeting the cost themselves.

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