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Brent Council apologises and compensates family over school bus delays for autistic child

An autistic child from North London was left ‘anxious and distressed’ after problems with his council-arranged school bus made him persistently late for classes. On one occasion the delay was on the day of a test, making the child worried about getting into trouble.

Brent Council is required to make home to school travel arrangements for eligible kids and deliver it free of charge through Brent Transport Services (BTS). It provides assisted travel by minibus or taxi to those that need extra support on journeys to and from school.

However, the child’s mum complained to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) that the transport was “often late without communication” and claimed the staff “lacked the training” to support young people with special education needs.

The subsequent investigation found both the council and BTS to be at fault. The report concluded that the mum, referred to as Mrs X, should be issued with an apology and awarded compensation of £300.

Autistic people can find changes difficult where maintaining a consistent routine is very important. Mrs X said the unexpected delays to the school bus caused her child, referred to as D, distressed and arriving at school in an unfit state to learn.

Mrs X first complained to the council in January 2023, but had been raising the issue with BTS since November 2022. She highlighted concerns about not being made aware that the bus was going to be late and that the passenger assistant “didn’t have the right training” to manage D’s complex needs.

The transport was delayed on a day when D had an important test at school, which he was already anxious about. Being late made this worse, causing them to then be “stressed and worried” about getting into trouble. Mrs X then stopped using the service after an incident where D arrived at school “extremely distressed”.

When Mrs X complained to the council, it acknowledged the “service failures”. As London traffic makes delays “unavoidable” it accepted that it was important for BTS to tell parents when the bus would be late. BTS was supposed to share copies of its guidelines with Mrs X, however, when this wasn’t done she escalated the complaint to the LGO.

The LGO investigators’ report said she had to go through “avoidable time and trouble” to pursue this and recommended a total of £300 be awarded for the fault. The Council agreed a plan to reintroduce D to school transport and provided Mrs X with more information about the training the passenger assistants received.

A Brent Council spokesperson said: “We accept the findings from the Ombudsman report and sincerely apologise to Mrs X and her child for the inconvenience and distress caused. We have completed all the immediate actions to remedy the situation and are also taking steps to improve the service in the long-term.”

They added: “For example, we have updated our training content for transport staff and ensured that they have been made more aware of their responsibilities when transporting passengers with autism.”