Extra payment options for post-16 transport are being introduced as the new council administration aims to make the charge easier for households to manage.
Northumberland County Council is now looking to carry out a comprehensive review of the policy which sees more than 100 students having to pay an annual sum of £600 for travel organised by the authority and other students over the age of 16, who are able to use public transport, having to pay for their own travel.
While it was not possible for the new Conservative administration to bring in any changes to the policy ahead of the statutory deadline for the 2017/18 school year, it has implemented a new payment system which allows families to spread payments more evenly.
Over the past year, 127 students paid for post-16 transport. Of these, 25 paid the fee as a lump sum and 102 choose to pay in instalments. Previously, the £600 charge could be paid as a lump sum or as a payment of £200 followed by eight monthly payments by direct debit of £50.
In a bid to help ease household budgeting, students will now be offered a third payment method from September 2017 – eight payments of £75 via direct debit.
Deputy leader of the council, Wayne Daley, who is also cabinet member for children’s services, said: “As a council, we believe the current post-16 travel charges are unfair and we are committed to overhauling this policy.
“While statutory deadlines meant we couldn’t make any major changes for the coming school year we were keen to find a way of offering increased flexibility for those students and families who have to pay the charges.
“Many people find it easier to spread bills evenly in smaller amounts rather than pay lump sums or larger initial instalments. We hope this new system will make things a little easier for some households while we carry out a root and branch review of the whole policy.”
The controversial post-16 transport charge was introduced in 2014 despite opposition from parents and politicians.