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Review announced into plans to make disabled students pay for travel costs

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 July 2018

Cllr Wendy Perfect said issues need to be addressed before the council go live on the policy. Picture: Bexley Council

Cllr Wendy Perfect said issues need to be addressed before the council go live on the policy. Picture: Bexley Council

Archant

A controversial plan to impose travel charges on families of disabled students will be reviewed before it goes live, it has been confirmed.

Bexley Council said its policy to introduce a 10 per cent levy towards the cost of travel assistance for post-16s with special educational needs or disabilities – a service that is currently free – was always scheduled to be reviewed.

It comes following pressure from the Labour opposition who said the charge was an attack on the “most vulnerable”.

The opposition said the decision needs to be further scrutinised as it was already given the green light at a public cabinet meeting last month.

Councillor Wendy Perfect said at full council: “I am asking the overview and scrutiny committee be requested to review the decision for the contribution for travel assistance for post-16 students.

“As we know, families looking after disabled young people are under incredible pressure.

“Their lives are very difficult, we need to make sure the process of contributing to their travel cost is as easy as possible. Any issues need to be addressed before we go live on this policy.”

The cabinet agreed the policy which would introduce a 10 per cent levy – £400 – towards travel assistance.

The cash will go towards transport assistance to schools and colleges, which can mean the use of ‘pick-up points’, a personal travel assistance budget paid to parents and carers, independent travel training or council-run transport vehicles.

Bexley taxpayers currently cover the costs which is on average £4,861 a year.

Other councils already charge for similar services, and there is no legal requirement for it to be provided free of charge.

Labour said the communities scrutiny committee should be reported to ahead of the go-live date to review the effect of the policy and its impact on families involved.

The council said it was always intended for the policy to go through scrutiny ahead of its rollout in September 2019, so the motion was redundant.

The chair of overview and scrutiny, Cllr Caroline Newton said: “The policy discussed at cabinet will be subject of work at scrutiny. I did make it clear there are areas for task and finish sub groups, including a review of the SEND policy.`

“I’m not sure why this has been called for us tonight, but I’m grateful to clarify the committee’s desire to bring it to a future meeting.”

Neighbouring authorities including Kent and Essex already charge £400 and £900 for similar services, but Lewisham and Greenwich do not.

The council will still pay 90 per cent of the cost for travel assistance, which would work out at an average of £4,461.

It comes as the council faces an overspend of £655k for the travel assistance budget.

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