Council criticised for not giving mother opportunity to fight for school transport
Education chiefs have been pulled up for their handling of a school transport case by the government ombudsman.
Investigators from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman looked at the case of a woman, identified as Ms X, who had applied for school transport in March 2018, before Suffolk County Council (SCC) made controversial changes to its school transport policy.
Ms X lived in a remote area without public bus services and struggled to get her children to school.
The council refused Ms X's application on the basis that her two children were not attending the closest school to their home.
The woman said she had not applied for the children to attend this school because she had been assaulted by a parent of a child there, an incident which she said had affected her children.
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Ms X appealed the council's decision but it was not upheld because the council said she had not provided evidence from professionals such as the police.
However, investigators were concerned the council had not followed government policy when dealing with the case, stating Ms X should have been able to give written and verbal representations the independent Individual Needs Transport Group (INTG).
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SCC did not allow this to take place, stating they didn't offer this to cases deemed to be outside the council's policy.
The ombudsman ruled no such distinction should have been made and Ms X should have been able to argue her own case.
The investigator concluded: "I have found fault by the council as its Home to School Transport appeals policy does not follow statutory guidance."
SCC was given a month to apologise to Ms X for her lost opportunity to make verbal representation to the INTG and to arrange for her to attend a hearing of the Education Transport Appeal Committee and present her case.
It was also told to review its appeals policy to ensure that it was in line with guidance within two months.
A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: "We of course respect the Ombudsman's decision regarding the appeal from 2018, and we have already changed our review/appeals process to ensure it is in line with the statutory guidance."