A FAMILY that suffered “unnecessary hardship” at the hands of the council because it refused to pay the travel costs for their two disabled children to go to school has been awarded compensation by the authority.

Buckinghamshire Council was ordered to pay more than £7,000 to the family of two children “eligible” for free home-to-school transport but were denied that right because the council’s own policy was “at fault”.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) found the council had failed to provide the service, “despite agreeing” both children were entitled to it.

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The mother of the children, both with “significant sensory processing needs and high levels of anxiety”, brought her complaint to the watchdog in April 2019.

The council paid for the woman to drive her children to school and back eight miles away, “because it had no suitable transport that would meet her child’s needs”.

However, it refused to pay her mileage to return home after dropping her children off at school and for the journey to pick them up.

The mother-of-two argued this did not amount to free transport and it was “unreasonable to expect her to wait at the school all day”.

She requested from the council a four-way mileage allowance which was rejected, and her subsequent appeal, supported by the children’s school, was also thrown out.

The council also contacted the wrong school when assessing her appeal, according to an official report.

The LGO upheld her claim, adding the ‘errors and delays’ had caused “unnecessary hardship, anxiety, time and trouble” for the family, which the council accepted.

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The law stipulates the council must make suitable travel arrangements for eligible children to attend school free of charge. Alternatively, it may pay the parent a mileage allowance to transport their child themselves.

The council was ordered to reimburse the family £1,479 for additional journeys since 2018 and a further £2,559 for outstanding mileage costs in 2019/20.

It must also pay four-way mileage for the family henceforth.

It was ordered to write a letter of apology to the family with £50 for every week the mother drove her children to school from September 2018 to March 2020, totalling £3,050, in recognition of the trouble caused.

More than £7,088 has been paid to the family.

The watchdog also made several recommendations to be actioned by the council within six months. They are:

  • Review the Home-to-School transport policy
  • Review other parents’ and carers’ mileage arrangements
  • Address the “apparent lack of suitable” Home-to-School transport
  • Report progress to the relevant committee
  • Update the Local Offer on the Bucks Family Information Service
  • Report progress to the LGO

Buckinghamshire Council has since completed several of these requirements.

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