Council to review more than 200 Freedom Pass rejections after watchdog report

More than 200 applications for free travel passes are to be reviewed after a council was reprimanded for turning one down for a man awaiting a hip replacement.

The London Borough of Newham apologised to the man and paid him £400 to compensate for the uncertainty and avoidable frustration caused to him, after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the way the council carried out assessments was not in line with guidance.

The ombudsman also concluded that the council did not have a specific policy in place for determining applications for Freedom Passes – the concessionary travel passes for London.

Under the Transport Act 2000, passengers over 65 are entitled to concessionary travel, as well as any passenger a council decides is disabled.

The man, who is not named in the ombudsman’s report, had his application rejected despite including supporting documents from the NHS about his disability, and the fact he was on a waiting list for a hip replacement.

He appealed against the council’s decision but was again rejected, and then  complained to the ombudsman.

As well as saying sorry and compensating him, the council is also requesting relevant evidence from the man in order to reconsider his application, the ombudsman said.

Following the ombudsman’s finding, the council has agreed to produce a new policy in line with Department for Transport guidance and publish this on its website.

The council has said it will also review a further 238 rejected applications the council refused in the financial year 2022-23 in line with its new policy.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “We expect councils to follow guidance unless they have a valid reason not to.

“In this case, the council’s assessment process lacked transparency and officers did not consider whether it was necessary to offer the man an independent medical assessment before deciding his application.

“We also found the council did not deal with the man’s application or appeal in a timely fashion.

“I am pleased the council quickly accepted fault in this case, and has agreed to revisit the cases of other people who may have been affected by its lack of proper policy.

“By putting a new policy in place, the council should prevent this situation happening to other people.”

Newham Council said it “apologises unreservedly” for how the man’s case was managed and accepted the findings of the ombudsman’s report.

Councillor Neil Wilson, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “I am so sorry for the situation that the complainant faced. The Mayor has taken personal interest in this case throughout the LGO investigation and has met with him on a number of occasions to ensure a full and thorough internal review was undertaken and to champion his case with council officers.

“The Council has apologised to the complainant personally and has outlined how we as a Council will improve as a result of his case to ensure that this failure is not repeated for any other resident. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the complainant for his time and determination in tackling this issue.”

Cllr Wilson added there would be “immediate improvements” in how Freedom Pass applications are managed and further historic cases would be audited to see if others were wrongly rejected.