Students Originally Refused Support Under Post-16 Policy
The families of more than 20 severely disabled children have spoken of their relief after Hampshire County Council performed a U-Turn on its refusal to provide vital educational transport services.
Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Public Law and Human Rights team was instructed by ten families, and was contacted by more than 20 other families after the council told them their children would need to attend college to access educational support but refused to help with their transport to and from college. All of the students have special educational needs and are not able to use public transport.
The youngsters had previously been provided with transport under Hampshire County Council’s post-16 transport policy for 2018/19. While a consultation suggested that the policy for 2019/20 would be based on similar criteria, 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, even though the children had no other way to reach their educational placement.
Irwin Mitchell wrote to the local authority at the end of July to outline the families’ concerns regarding the move, including how it was prepared to launch legal action to fight the policy.
However, the council has now effectively reversed its initial decision. It has confirmed that it will withdraw its policy and will review all its refusals to provide teenagers with transport services.
The group include teens from across Hampshire, including Fareham, Liss, Farnham, Aldershot, Havant, Yateley, Bordon, Priors Dean, and Southampton. It is thought that approximately 300 post-16 students require home to school transport and so a large number of families may benefit from the U-Turn.
Expert Opinion“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.
“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.” Alice Cullingworth - Solicitor
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Irwin Mitchell was first contacted about Hampshire County Council’s post-16 transport policy last year, after it emerged that families may have transport withdrawn. However, in that instance, the local authority agreed to provide transport in response to applications by families.
The families thought that the same criteria was being used this year. However, from June 2019 they started to receive letters telling them that transport would not be offered.
Irwin Mitchell had several concerns regarding the council’s actions, including that there was a failure to lawfully consult on the policy and that it amounted to a breach of the Equality Act and human rights law.
One of the children, B, is 16-years-old and lives with his parents. He has autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a learning disability. He has minimal awareness of road danger and it would not be safe for him to use public transport.
The boy needed transport to start a four year course at college from September. His parents are unable to drive him to college because they have to drive his nine-year-old sister to school and both parents are also working. B’s mum asked her employer if she could change her working hours so that she could drive B to college, but this request was refused. She would have had to quit her job in order to provide transport, which would have left her unable to pay her mortgage. Their application for transport was refused by the council in July, which the family appealed.
B’s mum, who did not want to be named, said: “Going to college is so important to my son and we were devastated when we were told no transport support would be provided. It just threw us into a world of doubt and concern as to how we would ultimately get him there.
“Many of my son’s non-disabled peers are going to their local college, but unfortunately the local college told us they cannot support his needs, and they don't offer any courses suitable for his level of learning. Like other disabled young people he has no choice but to travel further afield to receive an appropriate education, however, he cannot access public transport on his own due to the nature of his disability.
“Many councils are facing a difficult time but Hampshire County Council seems to be cutting vital services from the most vulnerable in our society. Surely it is vital that those who need help are given the support they require. News of this U-turn has been a huge relief and means we are all looking more positively to the coming months.”