A MOVE to charge special educational needs and disability (SEND) children for transport to school has received the backing of a council’s leadership, despite the threat of High Court action over the plan.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive unanimously recommended the meeting of the full authority on May 16 approves asking parents of SEND pupils to pay £490 annually for home to school transport and £245 for those on low incomes.

The meeting at County Hall, in Northallerton, heard numerous concerns about the proposals, which also include increasing the mileage allowance for parents to drive children to school.

Campaigners told the meeting the proposed charges equated 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.

Councillor Mike Jordan, chairman of the authority’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee, said its members also had deep concerns. He said the committee would support the changes on the understanding that low income families would be protected and that the council’s budget be re-examined before removing free transport for special needs children.

The meeting heard the move was designed to bring charges for SEND pupils into line with those for mainstream pupils and in doing so save the council about £57,000 a year by 2021.

Children’s services executive member Councillor Janet Sanderson said: “Some people say these savings are insignificant. But after several years of austerity it’s very hard to make savings. We have already picked the low-hanging fruit and are now on the extended step ladders and it’s an uncomfortable place to be.

“We want to protect the provision, correct the overspend and give flexibility to parents.”

Due to government legislation, since March 2015, there has been a 22 per cent increase in the number of SEND children and young people being transported in the county while it costs an average of £8,000 a year for each pupil.

The council said if no action was taken the SEND transport service, which has a budget of £5 million, would soar from £8 million to £30 million by 2025.

The meeting heard solicitors for campaign group Save Centre Services North Yorkshire (SCSNY) had outlined allegations that the consultation was unlawful and subject to legal challenge through judicial review.

The campaigners claimed the council’s consultation failed to provide clear proposals, consider the views of young people and whether the travel contributions were affordable.

Officers replied the council believed the campaigners had misinterpreted the proposals and that it did not believe the consultation had been flawed.

They added special needs pupils were already being charged between £1,400 and £350 a year for the service in 19 of 27 counties in England.

 After the meeting, Kerry Fox said SCSNY was gathering evidence for legal action ahead of the council’s decision on the proposals.

She said the group aimed to fund the action through Legal Aid or Crowdjustice, a crowdfunding platform that enables individuals, groups and communities to come together to fund legal action.

Ms Fox, from Beningbrough, near York, whose 18-year-old son is disabled, said such was the strength of feeling over the proposals that it took her group one weekend to raise the funds to present the legal challenge to the executive.