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Ombudsman finds Ealing Council at fault over school transport appeal for disabled child

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has upheld a complaint against Ealing Council after it was shown to be at fault over how it dealt with an appeal following refusal to offer school transport for a disabled child.

According to the complaint, Mrs M’s son, B, attends a primary school which is less than a mile from their home and in September 2022 they applied for home to school transport for a child with special educational needs and disabilities.

The council refused to offer transport saying that as Mrs M lives less than two miles from the school, the council is not required to provide transport and it said it was not required to provide transport as there was suitable free transport available from Transport for London. The council said it was a parents’ responsibility to accompany a child if he could not travel independently.

An appeal was made by Mrs M in October 2022 saying her son received the higher rate mobility allowance and assistance at school and that he was immunodeficient and vulnerable to infection using public transport.  That appeal was not successful in January 2023 as the council said her son does not meet the distance criteria.

In March 2023, Mrs M made a second stage appeal which was also unsuccessful and Ealing Council said there was no evidence to overturn the original decision.

Mrs M then contacted the Ombudsman who investigated and found fault at the way the council handled her appeals along with it taking longer than it should for responding.

In its findings, the Ombudsman said:

  • no evidence the council considered the implications of B’s special educational needs or disability for his ability to walk to school
  • the council simply said B does not meet the distance criteria. The distance criteria are not irrelevant to Mrs M’s application.
  • I cannot tell from the decision letter following Mrs M’s stage two appeal how the council reached its decision that B’s special educational needs or disability do not affect his ability to walk to school.
  • the council again referred to the distance criteria. This is irrelevant. The council said the distance criteria was three miles. This, too, is wrong for a child of B’s age.
  • the council referred to Mrs M speaking at the appeal hearing when in fact she did not attend.
  • taken together, these factors call the council’s decision into question. The council has made mistakes, taken irrelevant factors into consideration, and failed to adequately refer to relevant information.
  • the council took the entire school year to consider Mrs M’s application and subsequent appeals.
  • the council’s policy says a parent will receive a decision on a stage 1 appeal within four weeks. Mrs M waited 11 weeks.
  • the council’s policy says a parent will receive a decision on a stage 2 appeal within nine weeks. Mrs M waited 21 weeks.
  • This delay was unreasonable and is fault.

Ealing Council says it has apologised for the delays as well as offering compensation and also provided information to Mrs M on how to appeal the decision.

A council spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “We work with Ealing Transport hub to provide hundreds of great school journeys for disabled children every month. Unfortunately, in this case the applicant did not meet the eligibility criteria for the service, however, she has been provided with information about how to appeal this decision, with an extended deadline.”

The spokesperson added: “We have apologised for the delay she experienced and provided compensation in line with the recommendation, and we will work with her to provide advice about any alternatives which may be suitable for her family. We are also reviewing our internal processes to make sure this delay doesn’t happen again.”

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