Concerns raised about post-16 travel charge
Following a consultation with affected families, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet recently approved a proposal to charge post-16 students a contribution of £540 per year for SEN transport by taxi or minibus, from September 2017.
We discussed the consultation and the new charging policy with officers from the Travel team (see Q&A). This left us with three key concerns:
- The consultation report and additional papers presented to Cabinet contained some incorrect information, and did not include a full analysis of the free-format responses.
- The charge of £540 per year is not equitable. It is higher than what a non-disabled student would pay (e.g. £280 for a Student Hoppa pass). 70% of respondents to the consultation said that the charge was “too high”.
- The charge is not linked to usage. Although many disabled students only attend college for three or four days per week, the charge will not be calculated on a pro-rata basis.
We raised these concerns in a letter to Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families. Cllr Drayton invited us to a meeting and explained the following:
- In addition to the papers published on the council website, Cabinet members had the opportunity to peruse all of the consultation responses.
- The charge of £540 (£10.38 per week) is based on what Sheffield City Council currently pays SYPTE (South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive) for a zero-fare bus pass for under-16s from low-income families. It is a contribution towards the actual cost of SEN transport, which ranges from £4,000 to £12,000 per student.
- A decision was made that there would be one flat-rate contribution as it was felt that calculating the charge on a pro-rata basis would be very complicated. In addition, the extra administration involved would eat into the savings the council is trying to make.
Cllr Drayton said that she expected that most families would be able to offset the charge by claiming either the discretionary or the vulnerable student bursary. In addition, the council will work closely with any families who are struggling to make the payment. Cllr Drayton advised that the Council had agreed to set up a hardship fund and would urge any families with concerns to contact the Assessment and Training Team on 0114 2053542.
We pointed out that many families were not aware of the 16-19 Bursary or Employment and Support Allowance. Cllr Drayton said that the council would work with schools and colleges throughout the summer term 2017 to ensure that families had the information and support they needed to apply.
Cllr Drayton said that following the consultation, a report was taken to Cabinet in April. Cabinet approved the report and agreed the recommendations. She stated she had read all the comments on the draft proposals during the consultation, including the one submitted by the Parent Carer Forum, and that the proposals had been revised in response. She expressed surprise that no parents had attended the Cabinet meeting. We said we found it difficult to keep track of cabinet agendas and papers, which are only published days before a meeting.
Cllr Drayton committed to holding a review after six months to assess the impact on families. This would include looking at how many families were accessing the bursary and whether they were able to claim at least £540. There will also be a yearly review.