Eastbourne mother ‘devastated’ after council turns down disabled son’s transport

Brave boy: Billy Forse's sign says 'Please help me get to college' SUS-170217-124003001
Brave boy: Billy Forse's sign says 'Please help me get to college' SUS-170217-124003001

A mother’s battle for her disabled son’s college transport has been rejected by East Sussex County Council.

Leanna Forse appealed to the council to overturn a decision saying it would no longer fund her 16-year-old son Billy’s taxi to college, which costs her £500 a month.

But this week she was told it would stick with its original decision that the mother and severely disabled Billy do not have ‘exceptional circumstances’ for it to cover the costs.

Billy cannot use public transport as his unique chromosome disorder means that he is like a nine-month-old, both physically and mentally.

While he had always travelled to Hazel Court School through a council-funded taxi, this was revoked when he turned 16 under the county council’s post-16 transport policy.

Leanna, whose job as a teacher means she cannot take him herself, has been paying £500 a month for her son’s transport.

She appealed to an ombudsman, but the county council decided to return the case to the appeal panel for a new hearing, which returned the same result.

Leanna, 36, said, “I’m devastated. There’s not a good enough word to explain how I was feeling when I got that letter.

“It was the last resort. But we’ll figure something out, there are options we are looking at.

“One is that I hand in my notice and go on benefits.

“That’s not something I want to do but at least I’ll be able to take Billy to college.

“I’m not sleeping. It’s constantly in my head going round and round.”

But Leanna and Billy have had a lot of support in their case from friends, family and complete strangers.

She said, “People have been amazing. I’m getting lots of messages from people I don’t know.

“It helps to know we have got people backing us and supporting us.

“And Embrace, East Sussex, has been fantastic throughout the whole process.

“Rebecca Whippy has been a constant support and full of helpful advice and information.”

She added, “Parents of disabled kids have to go through so much anyway.

“I only ask for one thing that would make our life so much easier.

“It’s just extra stress on top of stress. It’s so frustrating.

“Although it looks as though I’ll have to leave my teaching job, this is not the end.

“We will continue fighting for the rights of disabled children and young people and their families.”

On the decision, an East Sussex County Council spokesperson said, “The appeal panel has reconsidered this case and decided that unfortunately the council won’t be able to fund Billy’s travel to college.

“The local authority is not required to provide free transport once a young person enters post-16 education, with responsibility for making travel arrangements resting with parents or carers in most cases.

“The panel carefully reconsidered all the issues in this case, including the length and complexity of the journey, whether Billy’s family could reasonably be expected to provide transport and whether they have a suitable vehicle.

“We can offer travel support to parents of post-16 students with special educational needs and disabilities in exceptional circumstances only and the decision of the panel was that the circumstances didn’t warrant making an exception to our post-16 transport policy in this case.

“In fairness to other young people and their families who may feel they’d benefit from travel support but are not eligible, it’s important that the rules are applied evenly to all.”