Transport charges for Derbyshire children with special educational needs

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Families of children with special educational needs in Derbyshire could soon be forced to pay almost than £350 a year for their school transport.

The fees which will save the council some £190,000 a year come in the wake of Government cutbacks.

Derbyshire County Council is launching a consultation which could see some parents and carers being asked to contribute towards the cost of their child’s travel to and from their place of learning.

Councillor Kevin Gillott, the council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Younger Adults, said: “I know that at a time when families are struggling with rising costs and falling living standards people will be wondering why we are having to consider asking them to pay towards providing transport for their children.

“Sadly, we have no choice whether we consult on these changes as we’re being forced by the Government to make savings of £157m by 2018.

“That means the council will have to cut the amount of money it spends on providing services to Derbyshire families by a third.

“Cuts on that scale mean we have to look at every penny the council spends and the services it provides to see if they can still be afforded.”

The proposals are the latest in a series of measures – called The Derbyshire Challenge - that will see £157m cut from the council’s budget by 2018 in response to Coalition Government funding cuts.

The proposals include:

Introducing a charge of £349 a year for transport for sixth form age pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. This is the same rate charged to other sixth form transport users.

A charge of £316 a year for the cost of school transport for pre-school children with special educational needs. However, families receiving the maximum Working Tax Credit and entitled to free school meals would be exempt from a charge.

Young adults aged 19 to 25 with a learning disability assessment would also be charged £349 a year for transport if they started their course before their 19th birthday. For those over 19 when starting their course, free travel would only be given where the council believed it was necessary.

If all the proposed changes were given the go-ahead it could save the authority £191,500. If approved, the changes would come in to effect from September 2014.

The changes could affect sixth form students and pre-school age children with special educational needs and young adults aged 19 to 25 with a learning disability assessment.

Free travel for school age pupils with special educational needs will not be affected as the council has a legal duty to provide free travel for eligible five to 16-year-olds.

People can give their views from Monday (3rd February) by visiting www.derbyshire.gov.uk/SENschooltransport.

If they prefer they can ring Call Derbyshire on 01629 533365 where an operator will fill out the questionnaire on their behalf. Paper copies will be available on request.

Letters will be sent to families whose children already use council transport and who could be affected to encourage them to share their views.

Any decision about whether or not to make the changes would only be made following a full consultation.

Councillor Gillott added: “We want to hear from as many people as possible so we can do our best for all Derbyshire children and families.

“We want to ensure we treat everyone fairly while making sure we balance the books. That means we have to take some very difficult decisions.”

The consultation will end on Monday 24th March. Results will be reported to Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet at a later date.

For more information about The Derbyshire Challenge go to www.derbyshire.gov.uk/challenge.