Wirral Council criticised by Ombudsman in school transport row
A council should reconsider a decision which meant a boy with autism faced having to catch a train and bus as well as walk a mile along a dark path to get to school, a watchdog has said.
The Local Government Ombudsman found Wirral Council acted unjustly when it withdrew help for four families.
Ombudsman Michael King said the council must apologise to the families and pay them compensation.
The council apologised and has promised to comply fully with the ruling.
Mr King said: "The way the council went about removing school transport in these cases caused distress to the families involved.
"These children were more acutely affected by a sudden change to their routines because of their special educational needs, and the parents could not understand why their level of support had changed, when their circumstances had not."
Pleased the council is reconsidering the families' cases, he said the reviews had to be carried out "swiftly and robustly".
Mr King also asked the council to consider whether other families were affected by the faults he had uncovered.
Families of the four children involved in the investigation appealed to Wirral Council with evidence supporting their children's eligibility for transport.
Despite the lack of change in any of the children's circumstances or needs, the local authority refused transport in three cases and changed the provision offered in the fourth case.
One 13-year-old boy with autism and other health conditions was told that instead of getting a council-funded taxi to school, he should rely upon a combination of a train, bus and walking down a partly unlit path.
A Wirral Council spokesman said: "The ombudsman has not suggested our policy on eligibility for home-to-school transport is wrong, but we do accept the process we followed in these four particular cases fell short of what would be expected."