A council has been forced to apologise after ‘failing’ to consider the safety of a young girl’s route to school when denying her transport.
Derbyshire County Council, in a decision published by watchdog the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, was found to have caused ‘injustice’ to the family.
The local authority watchdog also rapped the council for calculating potential routes to school as if the child was walking down the centre of the road.
It was found that the council did not show how safety concerns were addressed.
Meanwhile, the ombudsman also found that there was no evidence that the council had considered accident records or crossing points when assessing the safety of the proposed walking routes.
In falling short on these counts, the council had failed to follow its own school transport policies as well as national guidance.
The ombudsman decision involves the case of a Mr B – renamed to maintain anonymity – who had lodged a formal complaint against the council claiming it had not dealt with an application for free school transport for his daughter properly.
In a summary of the decision, the ombudsman wrote: “The council was at fault because it failed to comply with its Transport Policy for Children and Young People by considering routes that could not be walked with reasonable safety – and by failing to assess whether routes were reasonably safe to walk using the criteria in the policy.
“Mr B cannot be certain that the council has properly considered his application and appeal about home-to-school transport assistance for his daughter.”
The ombudsman said that the council must ‘remedy the injustice’ by apologising to Mr B for the ‘time and trouble he has been caused’.
Alongside this, the ombudsman also ordered the council to review its school transport policies within three months to make sure they meet national guidance – and to let the LGO know when this has been done.
The council must also, within four weeks, review the way it measures school distances to ensure that assessed walking routes meet with the council’s own policies.
Mr B’s case must be reassessed by an independent panel.
If Mr B’s appeal to the council is successful, the authority must reimburse any transport costs the family has had to pay.
Mr B had applied to the council for free school transport for his daughter, after being granted the same for his son several years before.
However, Mr B was denied this because the council said his daughter did not meet the distance criteria, which means that children over the age of seven must live more than three miles away from school to qualify.
The council had assessed this using a Geographical Information System (GIS) to measure the distance.
It had found an alternative route which Mr B’s daughter could walk which had not been used for his son’s case several years before.
Mr B felt that this route was unsafe.
The ombudsman wrote: “The council told Mr B that the GIS system measures distances along the centre of roads and that it would not expect children to walk along that route.
“The routes used by the council to determine distances cannot therefore be routes where a child, accompanied as necessary, can walk with reasonable safety to school.”
A spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said: “We accept failings in this case and we have apologised.
“We are arranging for a new appeal to be heard by an independent panel and, if this is successful, will reimburse the parent concerned for any transport costs incurred.
“We are also reviewing our transport policy to ensure it fully complies with statutory guidance.”
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service