Foster families around the country are being forced to pay for what should be free school transport – but councils will now be warned against the practice.

The local government and social care ombudsman (LGO) recently discovered Warwickshire County Council had told foster carers to pay for transport out of their fostering allowance when children attended schools beyond the statutory walking distance, even though they should have been entitled to free travel.

LGO Michael King said he knows of “a number” of other councils charging the same and will be urging them to review the policy.

Children whose foster families had to pay were being treated differently to children living with their birth families and getting free transport. He said carers should not be “penalised” for trying to maintain stability by keeping children in the schools they are used to.

“I would now urge others to check their policies as a matter of urgency to ensure they are treating fosters carers, and the children they look after, fairly when it comes to school transport,” he added.

A spokesman for Warwickshire Council said it was “never our intention to put any foster children at a disadvantage”.

He said the council accepts the LGO’s findings and is now reimbursing carers and “taking appropriate steps to review its policy”.