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Foster carers forced to bear transport costs when child moved schools

Ombudsman finds that Gateshead Council should have provided free school transport

Gateshead council will apologise to a couple after it insisted they bear the costs of taking their disabled foster child to a special school agreed by the council, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The Ombudsman found the council wrong not to provide free school transport for the boy, who has multiple disabilities and complex needs, when it agreed he should attend a new school 17 miles away.

This meant the foster carers were significantly out of pocket, and drove nearly 70 miles a day to and from the school.

The council believed the independent fostering agency, through which it employed the couple, should have covered the transport costs. This was despite the council naming the school in the boy's Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, for which government guidance says financial responsibility rests with the council.

The Ombudsman's report found the council should have considered the consequences of moving the boy to the new school, and properly explained the implication to the foster carers before the move was arranged. There was no evidence this happened.

The Ombudsman also found the council did not examine the terms of the contract it had with the fostering agency to ensure the additional transport costs were not passed onto the foster carers.

To avoid the same thing happening to others, the council has agreed to review its policies in this area. It will also ensure the foster carers in this case are reimbursed for the costs they've outlaid.

As well as apologising to the couple and ensuring they are not out of pocket for transporting the boy from 2016, the council has agreed to pay them £500 to recognise the distress and inconvenience caused. It will pay a further £250 to recognise the avoidable time and trouble bringing the complaint to the Ombudsman.

For the full report, click here.