Families’ legal threat forces council u-turn on school transport charges

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Hampshire school transport
Hampshire County Council’s HQ in Winchester

HAMPSHIRE County Council has dropped plans to cut school transport funding that could have affected hundreds of pupils, including many with disabilities.

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The turnaround came after the threat of legal action from about 10 families with severely disabled children aged over 16 who are unable to use public transport.

As reported in the A&T, the authority had proposed last year scaling back to the statutory minimum the £30m of support it was providing to about 15,000 pupils.

The families were represented by the Irwin Mitchell law firm, which said they had previously been provided with transport under HCC’s policy for post-16 pupils for 2018/19.

While a consultation suggested that the arrangements for 2019/20 would be based on similar criteria, they said it subsequently emerged that was not the case.

A large number of families applying for transport for their children to attend school and college from September 2019 were refused, they said – even though they had no other way to reach their classes.

That prompted Irwin Mitchell to write to the local authority at the end of July to outline the families’ concerns and threaten legal action to fight the policy.

It estimated about 300 post-16 students require school transport. The law firm was contacted by more than 20 other families in addition to those taking the case.

Solicitor Alice Cullingworth said: “This has been a very emotional time for the families we represent, as they simply want to ensure that their children can get access to the education they need and deserve.

“The parents we act for are unable to provide transport due to work and other commitments and they were very upset at the prospect of this issue impacting on their children’s wellbeing.

Hampshire school transport
Irwin Mitchell solicitor Alice Cullingworth

“While we recognise that local government across the UK is facing difficult times at the moment, it is welcome to see that the council has changed its position and reconsidered its post-16 transport policy.

“It is absolutely vital that vulnerable students are able to access the support they need to get the best from life.”

Legal concerns raised by Irwin Mitchell about the council’s actions included a potential failure to consult lawfully on the policy and that it amounted to a breach of the Equality Act and human rights law.

An HCC spokesperson stressed to the A&T that there had been no withdrawal of any services for youngsters.

She added: “However, we can confirm that a policy that was in place for post-16 transport for young people with special educational needs for the 2019/20 academic year has been withdrawn and we are applying the previous policy.

“We are in the process of reviewing the applications requesting transport in September and will be contacting applicants shortly.

“Any changes that may be proposed will be consulted on and published if agreed. All authorities are required to review this policy annually.”

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