Council in court after stopping disabled girl's free school transport


A family's case over a council's decision to axe their disabled daughter's free school transport is being heard by the Court of Appeal.

Leicestershire County Council stopped funding the girl's transport after she turned 16. Picture: Leicestershire County Council
Leicestershire County Council stopped funding the girl's transport after she turned 16. Picture: Leicestershire County Council

Leicestershire County Council is being challenged over its decision to remove the girl’s free transport when she turned 16.

The student, who is now 17, makes a 26-mile round trip to a special school.

The girl's father Stefan Drexler told the BBC at the time that the decision was "morally wrong".

A judicial review was launched after the council announced plans to stop paid-for transport for 16- to 19-year-olds in February 2019 in a bid to save £20m from its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget.

At the time, the decision was thought to affect about 420 people with SEND across the county.

The judicial review found the council's policy to be lawful – however, Leicestershire paused the introduction of the new scheme until September this year.

Charity Contact, which is supporting the family, says a loophole in the law and council funding pressures means increasing numbers of disabled teenagers being charged or denied school transport after their sixteenth birthday.

A victory for the Drexler family “could benefit families across the country,” the charity said.

New research carried out by the charity shows that 79 per cent of disabled young people are denied or charged for school transport or face disruptive changes when they turn 16.

A further 63 per cent of disabled young people aged 16 to 18 are being charged for their school transport compared with 20 per cent disabled children aged five to 15. 

One in 10 young people with a diagnosed disability are paying over £1,000 a year for school transport, research shows.

Almost half (47 per cent) of 525 parents of disabled children aged 16-18 in England who were polled by Contact said their family had suffered financially as a result of paying for school transport costs, while one in 10 said they had been forced to reduce their working hours or stop their child attending school post 16.

Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact, said: “It’s simply not fair that a young person is expected to be in school or training until 18 but does not have the transport to get there once they turn 16. 

“Many disabled teenagers can’t travel independently to school like other teenagers. They can’t use public transport so are unable to take advantage of discounted fares. And some are travelling a lot further to school, as they attend special schools or colleges.

“We are pleased this issue is getting proper scrutiny in the court as it is turning the lives of disabled teenagers and their families upside down across the country.

“However, it shouldn’t be up to individual families to go to court to fight yet another battle. If the government is truly committed to helping disabled youngsters reach their full potential and close the disability employment gap, they should close this loophole in the law and support local councils to meet their duties,” she added.

In 2012, a group of seven families in Leicestershire were each awarded £100 compensation after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman ruled the council had denied their children free transport to school.

In 2017, the Department for Education agreed to review guidance around school transport following a parliamentary inquiry.

The inquiry also called on the UK's devolved governments to make their laws on disabled children's right to school transport clearer.

A spokesperson for Leicestershire County Council said: “Our post-16 SEN transport policy was found by the High Court to be lawful after a thorough exploration of all the issues. The Court of Appeal hearing relates to limited aspects of the judgment, although we’re not able to comment in detail while proceedings are ongoing.

“We remain committed to supporting families and, at the time of the judicial review, we paused the introduction of the new policy in September 2019 until September this year, and we will keep this under review pending the outcome of the appeal.”

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year

Subscribe

CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year

Subscribe