Court Rules Judicial Review Needs To Be Held After Concerned Families Instruct Specialist Lawyers
Families opposing Hampshire County Council’s policy of charging parents for contributions towards “vital” educational transport have been granted permission to challenge the decision in the High Court.
The specialist public law and human rights team at law firm Irwin Mitchell is acting for two families challenging the council’s post-16 transport policy. It states a need for a parental contribution from the parents of students with special educational needs or a disability aged 16 to 18, and continuing students aged 19. The contribution amount requested from each family ranges from £600 to £1330 depending on distance travelled.
The families argue that the criteria for waiving contributions are unlawful, and contributions should be considered on a case by case basis. Hampshire County Council has stated it would waive or reduce the charges in circumstances where paying it would bring the family’s income near to £16,190 or below.
However, the legal experts believe the exceptions do not go far enough in considering the individual circumstances of the families affected. In addition, if a family had an income of £16,190 or less they would automatically meet the threshold for waiving the charges, therefore such a stipulation is unnecessary and “irrational.”
Expert Opinion“We are pleased that we have been granted permission to proceed with a judicial review so our clients can continue the challenge.
It remains our view that Hampshire County Council has failed to make their decision on parental contributions lawfully and that their discretion on waiving or reducing charges needs to go further to accommodate the individual needs of the families affected. Exceptions should be made on more than just the £16,190 income threshold.
The transport service is vital for students to access educational support, and the charges will have a severe impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society. We once again call on the local authority to engage with the families to find a solution and end the worry and upset not just our clients but other families are experiencing because of the policy.
That the High Court has granted permission for a judicial review clearly shows this policy is causing concerns for families and needs to scrutinised.”
Alice Cullingworth - Solicitor
Under the policy, Hampshire County Council provides transport to and from an educational placement for a post-16 student on the basis that the student has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or if the student has a disability which means they require transport arrangements to be provided. A parental contribution towards the cost of this transport is required, decided upon distance travelled. Up to five miles incurs a £600 charge; 5.01 miles to 7.50 miles is £831; 7.51 miles to 10 miles is £1164; and over 10 miles results in a charge of £1330.
The policy sets out that the contribution will be waived if the household has an annual gross income of no more than £16,190, however there is no indication that a waive or reduction in charge will be considered where this criteria is not met.
The judicial review is set to take place in the autumn.
BGA boy who can only be named as BG for legal reasons is 16 and lives in Fareham with his family. He has autism, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and a learning disability. These difficulties mean that he is unable to travel independently as it would be unsafe for him to do so.
In September last year, BG began attending College where he is doing a four-year independence skills course. It is 13 miles from where he lives and he requires the use the council’s post-16 transport service to ensure he can attend.
BG’s mum KK said: “We want the best for our son and because he cannot use public transport it’s important for him to have access to the council service to be able to continue his education.
“However, the parental contributions are having a significant impact on our finances. It is already the case that our family’s outgoings exceed our limited income, and we simply cannot afford to be paying out more without experiencing real hardship.
“We feel that the council is not listening to our concerns. We didn’t want to take this to court but we feel we have been left with no option."
LWLW, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, is 16. He has autism, ADHD, Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome and hemihypertrophy which are genetic disorders resulting in overgrowth of parts of the body. Due to these conditions, it would be unsafe for him to travel on his own.
He began a two-year course at special school in September and is also receiving transport assistance to ensure he can attend. It is 12 miles from his family home in Aldershot, Hampshire.
LW’s sister also has special educational needs and will become a post-16 student at the same school in 2021.
Their mum JW is unable to work due to her autism.
She said: “We depend on the sole income of my husband and we struggle to meet essential living costs as it is, without adding on the contributions to our son’s transport.
“Of course we would rather not be in this position, but unfortunately we felt we had to take a stand. All we want is for the council to come up with a solution that will help the families involved.”