A council has been rapped by an ombudsman for not paying a mum for costs she incurred in a row about whether they should have given her daughter free school transport.
The woman was not given the service to her daughter's school by Medway Council over two years ago as her second choice secondary school was 0.001 miles closer to home.
The complainant in the case, known as Mrs B, applied for transport for her daughter to get to the school she had gained a place for September 2016.
But the council refused her application because the choice she put down as her second choice was 0.001 miles closer, according to the council's measurements.
Its Home to School Transport Policy allows for the provision of free school transport for children living outside the "statutory walking distance" of three miles for children aged between eight and 16 years old.
Mrs B referred her complaint to council’s School Transport and Curriculum Appeals who rejected it and she then went to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Following an investigation, the ombudsman decided in September 2017 the council should provide school transport, pay Mrs B back for the costs she had incurred getting her daughter to and from school, and review its school transport policy which in their view, did not comply with the Department for Education's (DfE) guidance.
The issue raised by the ombudsman regarded how the council's policy did not take into account whether a place was available at the nearest qualifying school, in this case, her second choice, where she was not successful.
The ombudsman checked back with the council in December 2017 and they explained after seeking legal advice, they decided not to revise its policy to take account of the availability of places where parents have not put the nearest qualifying school first.
It had also not backdated the costs incurred to Mrs B as requested, however, as the school she attends is now considered the nearest due to a previously unavailable footpath which came into use from September 2017, it offered to pay her transport costs for 2017/18 and provided a bus pass for 2018/19.
As the council did not change its policy and did not issue compensation as they saw fit, the ombudsman issued a report in March last year.
It recommended the council provide transport for the child, change its policy as previously recommended and reimburse Mrs B her transport costs with interest and £100 as a remedy for the "injustice caused by the council’s delay in undertaking the agreed settlement."
At a meeting of the council's cabinet in June last year, councillors backed a report from the director of children's and adult's services which affirmed their school transport policy was in line with the DfE's guidance.
It decided to reimburse Mrs B's travel costs for 2017/18 with interest and pay £100 but did not reimburse her for the costs incurred for 2016/17 or change its policy.
"As the council decided it was not appropriate to challenge us by judicial review and it is now out of time to do so, it must accept our findings"
A release issued by the Ombudsman today states: "The council’s cabinet considered the report, but refused to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations, which the council had previously accepted.
"It did so based on a selective use of external advice and a flawed understanding of how it must respond to an ombudsman decision."
Legally, the council cannot now refuse to implement the ombudsman's recommendations because it disagrees with their original findings.
Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: “As the council decided it was not appropriate to challenge us by judicial review and it is now out of time to do so, it must accept our findings.
"Its response suggests it is attempting to reject the findings in our original decision, rather than the recommendations in the subsequent public interest report."
Cllr Josie Iles, portfolio holder of children's services at Medway Council, said: "We have apologised to the complainant for any distress this process may have caused.
"We feel we have worked closely with the Local Government Ombudsman since this complaint was raised in 2016.
"During this time we have consulted with the Department for Education on our school transport policy and they did not raise any concerns.
"We also sought independent legal advice and this found we were correctly following the Department for Education’s guidance on assessing school transport applications.
"However, we respect the Ombudsman's conclusions and will ensure the recommendations are actioned."