THE controversial introduction of home to school transport charges for post-16 special educational needs (SEN) students has proved a successful initiative, councillors have heard.

However, despite the policy helping North Yorkshire County Council cut £905,000 from its transport bills in its first year, the authority is continuing to face increasing costs for SEN transport with rising numbers of primary and secondary school pupils being identified as SEN.

The council’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee was told bringing the charges for post-16 SEN students with those for mainstream pupils had not created a barrier to post-16 education for anyone.

Alongside charging parents of SEN pupils £490 annually for home to school transport and £245 for those on low incomes, the authority stopped providing transport to SEN post-19 students and raised SEN pupils’ travel allowance from 30p to 45p a mile.

Last April, campaigners told the same committee the charges would equate to one and a half months’ mobility allowance for young people, who were already using the funding for medical appointments, family visits and short breaks.

They added the move would put “life trajectories at risk” and in doing so, would lead to an increased burden on the council’s social services budget.

A year on, councillors who had expressed concerns about the changes were told the policy had increased students’ independence, removed barriers to further education and jobs and helped the environment by taking scores of vehicles off the road.

Officers said any families that were not comfortable with the changes had been offered support, such as travel training.

Nevertheless, councillors were told while the increase mileage offer had proved attractive to new service users, take-up had been low among those who had been used to council organising transport, as it took up more SEN students’ time and thereby offered additional support to the family.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Stanley Jordan said: “This group was very keen to raise the allowance as we thought that it would encourage more self-sufficiency.

“It will be interesting to see over time if that continues to be the case.”