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Nottingham

Council paid parent £3,000 in dispute over disabled child’s school travel support

Nottinghamshire County Council paid a parent almost £3,000 in compensation after failing to move her onto a more generous support scheme when transporting her disabled child to school.

It follows an 18-month complaint against the Conservative-led authority that has been upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

It related to a parent who suffered an “injustice” by not being properly moved onto a larger mileage support scheme for school transportation.

The parent, who’s identity has not been made public, first complained to the ombudsman in June 2021.

She transported her disabled child to school and was compensated through the “parental mileage allowance rate”.

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This was a scheme offered by the authority to provide payments for two return journeys per day to school.

It initially offered 45p per mile before being reduced to 22.6p per mile in 2012.

However, the authority introduced the ‘direct travel assistance payment’ (DTAP) in 2017 for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The DTAP payment is paid every term in advance and offers the original 45p per mile rate.

Parents sign a contract with the council and their claims are audited to ensure all payments are correct and accurate.

The complaining parent, named only as Mrs M, was contacted regarding DTAP in November 2019 and agreed to her first payment in June 2020.

However, in her complaint, she said she should have been paid the DTAP since its introduction in 2017, rather than receiving the lower-paying scheme.

She believed she was owed £2,968 in compensation, complaining “parents were not told about [it] at the time” and that she did not know it was on offer.

The ombudsman report said: “Mrs M complains she knew nothing about DTAP until she was invited to apply in November 2019 by a transport officer, who suggested she would be better off claiming the new allowance.”

In its responses to investigators, the authority said it published information on its website, in documents and leaflets about DTAP.

And it said it “does not routinely review travel arrangements for children with special educational needs”.

However, Mrs M kept “detailed records” including an archive of the authority’s magazines, for which she said she could “find no reference”.

In assessing her complaint, the ombudsman concluded the council should have offered Mrs M the DTAP payment from the point it was first launched.

If it had, the ombudsman says she “would have accepted and would have been paid considerably more”.

The report added: “[The council] was at fault not to ensure all eligible parents were aware of the offer from its introduction.

“Simply advertising the offer and expecting parents to realise they would be better off and apply was unreliable, as Mrs M’s complaint demonstrates.”

The authority agreed to pay Mrs M £2,942.05 for backdated DTAP payments.

The complaint was discussed during the authority’s governance and ethics committee on Wednesday (February 22).

A council spokesperson told the meeting there were some disputes about the parent’s payments, which were not considered by the ombudsman.

They said: “There were disagreements about the journeys the parent actually made.

“There were also disagreements where – at the end of the period where she was able to use it – there was a balance remaining which should, then, have been returned to the authority.

“That’s part of the contractual agreement and, three months later, she continued to spend from that budget.

“The ombudsman seemed to think that was irrelevant.”

They added DTAP payments are now also “the first thing applicants see” when applying for support.

Councillor Philip Owen (Con), the committee’s chairman, said: “This is most unsatisfactory.

“I certainly, on the evidence, don’t accept this. We are not going to accept paying taxpayers’ money when we feel there is some doubt.”

•  County Council to begin ‘vigorously’ fighting complaints made to local government watchdog

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