Parents' complaint over council school taxi offer for autistic child upheld
PUBLISHED: 12:04 22 June 2019
An autistic boy's trip to school became 'traumatic' after the local authority decided to save money by putting him in a taxi with another pupil.
The nearest secondary school which could meet the boy's needs was 35 miles away, but the journey took about 90 minutes because he was picked up before another child.
The boy's mother said the journey could take more than two hours in bad traffic, and she often had to take him herself because he became so anxious he refused the taxi.
North Somerset Council made the school transport offer after rejecting the woman's appeal for a separate taxi to shorten the trip for her son.
The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman has upheld a complaint from the boy's parents against the council and ordered it to hold another appeal and revise its school transport rules.
Mr and Mrs B - as referred to in the report - said the council failed to consider the impact of the journey time on their son and its school transport policy was unlawful.
Local authorities are required to provide suitable transport to school, where necessary. The trip for a secondary school child should be no longer than 75 minutes and 'reasonably stress-free', according to Government guidance.
North Somerset Council offered a taxi shared with three other pupils along a 50-mile route which would have taken at least an hour and 40 minutes, the Ombudsman's report shows.
The boy's mother appealed, asking for a separate taxi to keep his journey to around 75 minutes to avoid 'stress and anxiety' for him.
But the council said separate taxis would double travel costs and offered instead to explore whether a larger vehicle would help and promised to review the travel arrangements after a couple of months. Shortly after the appeal hearing, the council decided to divide the four children into two taxis, reducing the travelling time.
The council obtained taxi information suggesting the boy's trip to school took 90 minutes on average and that the journey home took around 75 minutes.
The boy started on a part-time timetable in January 2018, went full-time two weeks later, and started travelling by taxi in April 2018.
The Ombudsman's decision said: "The council was at fault, as its school transport appeal panel failed to fully consider Mr and Mrs B's son's circumstances when hearing their appeal against the council's offer of transport."
The council was ordered to review its transport policy to reflect the requirements of the Education Act and the statutory guidance by the end of August.