Surrey County Council (SCC) has been ordered to pay out £1,500 by the Social Care Ombudsman for a ‘service failure’ in defaulting its legal duty to provide SEND transport to and from school.

The local authority has already predicted an overspend of £7.3 million on SEND school transport for its 2024-25 annual budget.

A family received the £1,500 amount after SCC failed to provide school transport for a child with complex medical needs adding pressure to the family. The boy missed 27 days of education as well as special needs provision, causing his mother and the wider family “avoidable” distress.

The provider suspended the child’s transport after no longer feeling able to meet the boy’s change in medical needs in June last year. The boy waited for his school transport to pick him up the next morning but it did not arrive to collect him. It was not until lunchtime that the travel provider informed the Council that it had suspended its service.

SCC speedily offered the mum a travel allowance while it explored longer term solutions but she felt ‘pressured’ into taking it as she did not have the time to recruit carers. Travel allowance is a more cost-effective option than managed transport services.

Report documents detail the “avoidable distress, frustration and inconvenience” that the child’s transport withdrawal caused his family. The Social Ombudsman said “the council did exactly what we would expect in the circumstances it found itself in”. It now has contracts with two ambulance-style providers able to transport children with complex medical needs.

A SCC spokesperson said it would not comment on individual cases and “although the report does recognise that we put appropriate mitigations in place, we accept the findings from the Ombudsman report and sincerely apologise for any distress caused”.

The council added: “We have seen a 64 per cent increase in education, health and care needs assessment requests across Surrey since 2020.

“It has naturally had a knock on effect with a year on year increase in demand for Home to School Travel Assistance (HTSTA) as many children and young people with an education, health and care plan require HTSTA. 

“This has resulted in a predicted overspend for this service.”

The ombudsman demanded the council pay the mother £1,000 in recognition of her son’s missed education and SEND provision during the period he had no transport to school. Plus £500 for the ‘avoidable distress’ it caused her and the family.

In 2023, SCC saw an overspend of £12 million on SEND transport, with nearly a third of the transport costs being to independent schools outside of Surrey. Rising demand, more travel days and anticipated increase in the number of children who need transport have contributed to a pressurised budget.

SCC said it is reviewing all discretionary travel arrangements, tightening applications and is actively promoting personal travel allowance to manage costs.

View more details of the ombudsman report online at