A COUNCILLOR has intervened in the case of a Borders dad who claims he has been forced into debt because the petrol allowance he receives for conveying his disabled son to a special school in Dundee has been slashed, writes Andrew Keddie.
The father, who lives in the central Borders but does not wish to be named, contacted Councillor Gavin Logan (Con, Tweeddale East) last week after being told in August that his mileage rate had been cut from 36p to 13.5p by Scottish Borders Council.
“My 13- year-old son has ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and has been assessed by council social workers as requiring to attend a residential school outwith this region,” the man said.
“I collect him from school on a Friday afternoon, bring him home and drop him back on Monday morning, but I am not eligible for a mobility vehicle. I used to have some of the petrol money put away each week for treats, such as toys or a trip to the cinema.
“But now the money has been cut, I am in debt and can no longer give him such rewards which are a key part of his treatment. I went to Mr Logan because I am seriously doubting if I will be able to continue taking my son to school in my car.
“If that happens, not only will it cost the council much more for a taxi and an accompanying carer, it will deprive us of the precious bonding time we enjoy on our journeys.”
At Thursday’s full council meeting, Mr Logan asked Councillor Ron Smith, executive member for children and strategic services, to explain why the man’s mileage allowance had been cut.
Mr Smith said that when the transport to schools policy for children with additional support needs was being reviewed, SBC’s insurance section advised parents with a mobility vehicle that it could not be used for ‘hire and reward’ [payment for or on behalf of a passenger] because insurance companies would not cover mobility vehicles used for this purpose.
“The council’s insurance team advised that paying the 36p per mile rate constituted hire and reward,” said Mr Smith. “Many parents do have access to a mobility vehicle and would be affected by this change and it was agreed at this point to introduce a standard payment that treated everyone who received a parent-assisted rate in the same way. The integrated children’s services [ICS] and transport team eventually settled on a rate of 13.9p per mile – a contribution towards travel costs rather than a payment made in lieu of actual costs.
“The rate is based on a nationally adopted figure, sometimes called the public transport rate, which is used, for example, when interview candidates come to the council in their own cars and reclaim their travelling expenses.”
Mr Smith said that since the flat rate had been agreed, ICS locality teams had been speaking to all affected families without access to a mobility vehicle.
But the father claimed he had not been consulted before the allowance was slashed and, when he called SBC to complain, he was told that if he did not like the situation, he and his son could travel to Dundee by bus.
After hearing Mr Smith’s explanation, Mr Logan said the decision to cut the complainer’s fuel allowance without consultation had been “unfortunate”.
But Mr Logan revealed on Tuesday that he had, on Mr Smith’s advice, taken up the man’s case with senior social work staff.
“They have agreed to look at all the circumstances and I trust that payments will be fully backdated,” said Mr Logan. “I understand around seven families are in the same situation, so I find it hard to believe that any saving to the public purse is worth the misery that this has evidently caused.”
The father welcomed the news his case would be reviewed, adding: “I still find it all a bit rich, considering the mileage allowance for councillors and officials using their own cars for essential journeys, went up from 40p to 45p in April last year.”