Council chiefs in Hertfordshire have agreed to payout £1300 to the mother of a ‘vulnerable’ child, after transport arrangements were changed without warning.
According to an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the child – who has disabilities and qualifies for school transport – had used a taxi provided by the council to get to and from school from 2020.
But in the summer of 2022 – without warning – the council are said to have added a second child to the taxi. The child’s mother complained that that caused such distress that her child suffered panic attacks.
She said that, because of the trauma caused, the child had not been able to leave the house since. Following an investigation the Ombudsman has found the council to be at fault.
And the council has agreed to pay out £1000 for the distress caused to the child and a further £300 for the ‘unnecessary distress and uncertainty’ caused for the parent.
According to the Ombudsman’s report the parent had highlighted that routine changes could cause distress, suggesting in the referral that the child would need a ‘consistent’ driver or personal assistant.
The council stated that the form did not mention other children. They said that because the form had not said that the child could not travel with other children it was ‘not unreasonable’ for it to add another child.
The Ombudsman said that this was ‘a very narrow view’ – missing the point about the impact on the child of a change in routine. He added that if the council had had any questions about the impact on the child they should have asked the parent first.
He also highlighted a letter of apology that had been sent to the parent from the council – which he said was ‘not a meaningful or effective apology’. He said that while it should have apologised for the resolution of the transport issue not being actioned more quickly, it did not mention this.
In addition to the financial remedy, the report says the council has also agreed to apologise in writing for the distress. And it must apologise for the resolution of the transport issue more being actioned more quickly.
The council has also agreed to review its explanatory notes that are sent our with the transport referral form and to remind staff that they must not make presumptions about what may or may not affect a child.
Commenting on the Ombudsman’s findings, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We’re sorry for the distress caused to the child and parent in this case and for the length of time it took to resolve the transport issue.
“We have apologised formally to the family and will ensure that all explanatory notes are taken into consideration in the future.
“We always aim to ensure each individual child’s needs are assessed on a case by case basis when making decisions on home to school transport.
“We transport over 6,000 children to and from school across Hertfordshire every day.”