Families at the sharp end of the school transport loophole share their stories

4 mins read

Thursday 20 February 2020

Yesterday we released the findings of our latest school transport research which reveals the scale of the difficulties facing disabled young people aged 16-18.

When we followed up with some of the 525 families who completed our survey, we heard first-hand the impact of the school transport loophole.

Here are the stories from some of those families. Thank you to everyone who took part in our survey.

“Now we face costs of £700 a year”

Nadine from Surrey said: “At the end of January, Surrey County Council approved changes to school transport policy which means no free transport for 16-18 year olds. My son has a place on a school bus and we have been very happy with the arrangement. But now we face costs of £700 a year. My son has Down Syndrome and Autism and can’t use public transport so is unable to take advantage of discounted fares that other children get. It all seems so wrong, when he is still expected to be in school. Nothing has changed except his age.”

Our new research found that:

  • 79% of disabled young people are denied or charged for school transport or face disruptive changes when they turn 16:
    • 63% of disabled young people aged 16-18 are being charged for their school transport
    • 16% are denied school transport or face changes that are not always suitable
  • One in 10 disabled young people are paying over £1000 a year for school transport

And these charges and changes are taking their toll on families already under enormous pressure: 

  • 45% experienced increased stress
  • 47% experienced financial difficulties as a result
  • And one in 10 reduced their working hours or had to stop their child attending school.

“Turned down flat for school transport”

Chris Hiron, from Hampshire, said: “My son, Rowan, moved into further education last September but stayed at the same school. I knew I was likely to face new charges of over £1300 per year for Rowan’s school transport because he was now 16. But Hampshire introduced a new policy which meant we were turned down flat for any school transport, without even being given the option to continue the existing arrangements and pay the charges.

“Rowan’s EHCP specifies outcomes to develop his independence and social skills, and no longer being on the school minibus would significantly reduce the few opportunities he has to achieve these. Plus, I work part-time and would have had to give that up – a situation not faced by families with independent, post-16 students. The whole process created stress and uncertainty and I am concerned what will happen next year when we are asked to re-apply.”

The loophole means that funding transport for disabled teenagers aged 16-18 is up to an individual council’s discretion. And as councils struggle with budget pressures more and more are withdrawing funding, cutting transport or introducing cheaper alternatives which are not always appropriate.

As a result, Contact’s helpline has seen a 40% increase in enquiries about the loophole in the last three years.

“Very unsettling”

Jennifer said: “Our daughter needs to attend a particular college 25 miles away and which the local authority agree is the nearest suitable place to meet her complex needs. Transport charges are based on distance so our daughter has to pay the maximum transport fee of more than £1242/year for 4 days, all from her benefits, due to no choice of her own. 

“It’s also ‘discretionary’ whether  transport is arranged at all over a certain distance from college. This is very unsettling during hard times in the education sector; you’re never quite sure if transport could be withdrawn. We are forced to needlessly reapply each year too, once again never sure if transport will be arranged again. This causes extra admin and anxiety.”

Contact is calling on the government to close this loophole in the law and put more funding into the system to help local councils meet their duties.