Coventry City Council has agreed to amend the way it handles appeals about free school transport after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found its policy did not meet statutory guidelines.
The problem was uncovered after a man complained he had not been given a fair hearing when he appealed against the council’s decision not to offer free school transport to his child.
An investigation by the Ombudsman found the council was not allowing parents the chance to make verbal representations at the appeal panel stage, and instead would only consider written evidence.
This left the man not knowing whether being able to attend the hearing would have made a difference to his child’s case, according to the Ombudsman.
Coventry has agreed to apologise to the father and offer him a fresh appeal. The council has also amended its procedure to ensure it meets statutory guidance.
A spokesperson for Coventry said: “The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has issued a report following its investigation of a complaint against Coventry City Council. The complaint focused on the appeals process for applications for home to school travel assistance.
“The Council welcomes and accepts the findings of the Ombudsman in identifying an unintentional flaw in the Council’s appeal process for home to school travel assistance. The process has been reviewed, in accordance with statutory guidance to ensure that parents can now attend an appeal hearing if they choose to do so."
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: “The council appears to have made the decision to depart from statutory guidance to speed up the process and save money: these are not valid or acceptable reasons to depart from statutory guidance.
“Denying the right to make verbal representations could disadvantage parents, particularly those who cannot express themselves as well in writing as they might in person."
He added: “I’m pleased Coventry City Council has accepted my recommendations and has now amended its policy so other parents are not affected in the same way.
“I also wanted to highlight this case – as well as the report from last week – to give all councils the chance to reflect on their school transport and appeal procedures to ensure they do not depart from statutory guidance without valid reasons.”