Fringe Box



Transport Service Failure for SEND Pupil

Published on: 3 Jul, 2024
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2024

By Emily Dalton

local democracy reporter

Surrey County Council (SCC) has been ordered by the social care ombudsman to pay out £1,500 for a “service failure” in defaulting its legal duty to provide transport for a child to and from school. The child has complex medical needs.

The local authority is already facing a possible overspend of £7.3 million on SEND school transport for its 2024-25 annual budget.

The child’s family has received the payment after the council failed to provide school transport adding pressure to the family. The boy missed 27 days of education as well as special needs provision, causing his mother and the wider family “avoidable” distress.

The provider suspended the child’s transport after no longer feeling able to meet the boy’s change in medical needs on June 15, 2023. The boy waited for his school transport to pick him up the next morning but it did not arrive to collect him. It was not until lunchtime until the travel provider informed the council that it had suspended its service.

SCC speedily offered the mum a travel allowance while it explored longer term solutions but she felt “pressured” into taking this as she did not have the time to recruit carers. The travel allowance is a more cost-effective option than managed transport services.

Report documents detail the “avoidable distress, frustration and inconvenience” that the child’s transport withdrawal caused his family. The social care ombudsman said “the council did exactly what we would expect in the circumstances it found itself in” and it now has contracts with two ambulance-style providers able to transport children with complex medical needs.

A SCC spokesperson said it would not comment on individual cases and “although the report does recognise that we put appropriate mitigations in place, we accept the findings from the Ombudsman report and sincerely apologise for any distress caused”.

They added: “We know how important it is for children and young people to have access to their education setting, however a lack of suitable providers has meant that some children who require specialist provision for high and/or complex medical needs have had to wait longer for appropriate arrangements than we would like. In these circumstances we always work actively with families to find a solution and offer measures such as personal travel allowances in the interim.”

The ombudsman demanded the council pay his mother £1,000 in recognition of his missed education and SEN provision during the period he had no transport to school, plus £500 for the “avoidable distress” it caused her and her family.

An overspend of £7.3 million, all based on home to school transport, is already predicted one month into SCC’s new budget for 2024-25. In 2023, SCC saw an overspend of £12 million on SEND transport, with nearly a third of the transport costs being to independent schools outside of Surrey.

Rising demand, more travel days and anticipated increase in the number of children who need transport have contributed to a pressurised budget. SCC said it is reviewing all discretionary travel arrangements, tightening applications and is actively promoting personal travel allowance to manage costs.

A SCC spokesperson added: “We have seen a 64 per cent increase in education, health and care needs assessment requests across Surrey since 2020, which has naturally had a knock on effect with a year on year increase in demand for Home to School Travel Assistance (HTSTA) as many children and young people with an education, health and care plan require HTSTA. This has resulted in a predicted overspend for this service.”

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