Following a consultation with affected families, Sheffield City Council approved a proposal to charge a contribution of £540 per year for post-16 SEN transport, starting in September 2017.
We invited Kate Dymond and Paul Johnson from the council’s transport service to our Education subgroup meeting on 12 May to find out more. Here’s a summary of of what we discussed at the meeting, and some additional information we received afterwards.
Has an Equality Impact Assessment been carried out? Yes. This identified a negative financial impact, which will be mitigated via a hardship fund (see below).
How was the figure of £540 arrived at? 70% of respondents said that it was too high. After considering a number of options, it was decided that £540 was the most appropriate amount prior to consultation. Responses in the consultation process were later considered, and it was decided that the contribution would remain at £540. Parents pointed out that there are cheaper annual travel passes (e.g. the Student Hoppa at £280 per academic year). Parents felt that charging disabled students more than the average travel cost incurred by non-disabled students was discriminatory.
Could there be paying and non-paying students on the same bus? Yes. The provision won’t change, but those in post-16 education will be required to pay a contribution.
Why will post-16 students have to pay, and those under 16 won’t? Officers explained that post-16 SEN transport is discretionary. Like many other local authorities affected by budget cuts, Sheffield is reducing the discretionary services it provides. SPCF staff explained that legislation has not kept pace with the Raising the Participation Age agenda, which now requires young people to be in education or training until they are 18. This has created an anomaly which means that local authorities have to provide free SEN transport for those under 16, but not for those over 16. The National Network of Parent Carer Forums has raised the issue of Post-16 SEN transport charges with the Department for Education. Contact a Family is planning a campaign around SEN transport.
What happens when a student whose parents have been paying the travel charge turns 19 during the academic year? The transport and the contribution towards the cost of transport both remain in place until the end of the academic year in which a student has their 19th birthday (end of Y14). After that, transport will again be provided free of charge provided the student has an EHC plan naming an education/training provider and transport is necessary to enable them to access this provision.
We’re told that families should use the 16-19 Bursary to pay for the transport charge. What is it?
There are two types of this bursary:
1) The discretionary bursary is for students from families with a household income below £16,190 (for those attending Sheffield College, the threshold is £26,000, and you must be in receipt of certain benefits). It is paid by the government to all post-16 settings. Some settings administer this themselves, others have asked the local authority to administer it for them. Some special schools have not been promoting this bursary, because everything that the bursary is supposed to be used for (equipment, free school meals, books, transport) was provided free of charge anyway. The more students receive the discretionary bursary, the lower the amount per student will be.
2) The vulnerable student bursary is for students who get specific benefits (including students in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance and DLA or PIP).
Most parents don’t know about these bursaries, how will they find out? The travel service has drafted information about the bursary which schools have been asked to put on their websites. Officers in the Assessment and Training Team will be fully briefed to answer questions from parents. In mid June, an application form for post-16 transport and information about the travel charge and the 16-19 Bursary was sent to all students in Y11-Y13 who are currently accessing SEN transport. Parents pointed out that secondary schools should play a more active role in informing parents about benefits and bursaries.
How should parents apply for the bursary? All applications should be made through the school or college. If parents have difficulty completing the form, they should ask the school or college for help. If that’s not possible, they can ask the Assessment & Training Team (tel 0114 2053542) or SENDIAS (0114 2736009) for support.
Who will be able to access the hardship fund? Officers explained that the hardship fund will take into consideration individual circumstances, and applications will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. There is no fixed upper income limit. Families may be able to access the fund if:
- The discretionary bursary received by a student is below £540 (i.e. you need to know the outcome of our application for the discretionary bursary before you can apply for the hardship fund)
- A family has more than one child requiring post-16 SEN transport
- They are struggling to pay the charge
- Their young person is mid-way through their course at 1 September 2017 and the changes will have a negative impact on their studies
To apply for the hardship fund, parents should contact the Assessment and Training Team on 0114 2053542.
Do you have any idea how many families will access the hardship fund? A rough idea, based on income groupings per postcode.
Will the charge be calculated on a pro-rata basis for students who are not accessing education for five days per week? Students on Foundation Learning courses only attend college for three or four days per week. No, these students would be expected to pay the charge in full. The route for any parent wishing to discuss the contribution (or their ability to pay) is to contact the Assessment and Training Team on 0114 2053542.
Is it correct that students taking part in Independent Travel Training do not have to pay the travel charge? Once a young person in post-16 education is travelling at least one leg of the journey independently each day (or 50% of the time), then the charge will stop, subject to their continued engagement and completion of the training. Should they not complete and therefore not be completely taken off transport, then parents will again have to pay the contribution.
What happens if a student has completed their Independent Travel Training, but the student or their parents don’t think they are ready to travel independently? Can they go back on SEN transport? As above. If a student has completed their travel training, they are already successfully and safely travelling independently. A parent could request to go back on transport, which would be considered at the Travel Panel. If this was agreed, then parents would have to pay the contribution towards the cost of transport.
Is there a risk that students may be pushed towards independent travel training before they are ready, e.g. by parents worried about the travel charge? No. Nobody will be forced to take part. If young people are put forward for whom this is not appropriate, they will be turned down.
Cabinet was not given a summary of free-format responses. Will a full consultation report be published? Kate Dymond explained that some free-format responses contained confidential information and it would not be possible to publish the full text. Parents asked if it would be possible to publish an analysis of these responses without compromising confidentiality. Kate said that the free-format responses had been coded, but there was no intention to publish an analysis. She pointed out that the report to Cabinet contained a few quotes and some references to free-format responses.
How much is the charge likely to save the Council? If all students accessing post-16 SEN transport contribute £540 per year, the maximum saving would be £100,000 per year, but a more realistic figure (taking into account the hardship fund) is £50,000 per year.
This is a relatively small saving, which will cause quite a lot of anxiety for parents. Are there no other ways this could have been achieved, e.g. by reducing unused taxi bookings? The service is also looking at making other efficiency savings, e.g. they are talking to Sheffield College to try and reduce unused taxi bookings. Due to the level of the financial challenge facing the council, it is a case of trying to reduce/eliminate any unnecessary expenditure, rather than either/or.
What would happen if a parent refused to pay? The service would try to make it work, but ultimately transport for that young person would cease.
Other points raised
Parents pointed out that the report submitted to Cabinet contained some incorrect information. For example, it stated that 30% of respondents felt that the amount proposed to charge families was “fair”, when there was no question about fairness in the questionnaire. It omitted to say that 70% of respondents thought the charge was too high.
More information about post-16 travel support, independent travel training, the appeals process etc. is available on the Sheffield City Council website.