Blog: Child safety priority for Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme

The Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme which launched on 31 January is going to open doors to new and exciting opportunities for children and young people under the age of 22 in Scotland, from accessing employment and education to visiting to friends and family across the country

The scheme is going to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people for the better, but any initiative open to children as young as 5-years-old has to put child safety concerns at the top of the agenda.

The Scottish Government has, as part of its policy to provide free bus travel for under-22s, made it a requirement for parents to approve all applications for children between the ages of 5 and 15.

While many children using their free bus travel card will only do so in their own local area, to travel to school or to visit friends, it is important to remember that the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme opens up the whole of the Scottish bus network, from Stranraer to John O’Groats and everywhere in between to National Entitlement Card holders. It is only right that parents and guardians of younger children should have to approve their application, and that they consider carefully the implications of doing so, including whether it’s appropriate to allow their child to access nationwide free bus travel.

With Scottish Government policy requiring parental approval for children, the Improvement Service had to build this new function into our online platform. This added an extra layer of complexity to applications for young people aged between 5 and 15 which must pass three stages of proofs before a card can be issued; first, establishing the identity of the young person, then establishing the identity of the parent or guardian and finally, but perhaps most importantly in such cases, establishing the relationship between child and parent or guardian, proviing that they have the right to act on behalf of the child and approve their application for free bus travel.

Without such strict verification processes, children under 16 might have been able to obtain their own travel card without the knowledge or permission of their parents. Our multi-layered application process ensures that this cannot happen, making certain that parents remain in control and that children remain safe.

In addition, our application process needs to be robust enough to ensure that fraudulent documents or applications are rejected, while we also need to make sure we comply with identity verification standards and protocols, including standards required by the UK National Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). Young Scot National Entitlement Cards carry the PASS logo and can be used as legal proof of age.

The Improvement Service is continually reviewing the application process to make it as straightforward as we can while meeting all these requirements and standards, and we have already made some changes after consulting with delivery partners and in agreement with the UK PASS Board, including relaxing the rules on which proofs are accepted for online applications.

We are now accepting out-of-date passports as proof of identity, provided that that the passport photo still looks like the young person or parent/guardian making the application. In addition, we have relaxed the rules regarding proof of address, allowing applicants to use proofs which are dated within the last 12 months, rather than the last three months which was initially the case.

The online application process may seem complicated, but there are very good reasons why has to ask for a variety of information regarding proof of identity and proof of address. Child safety has to be the number one priority with any travel scheme which involves young people, especially when you consider the implications if children under the age of 16 were able to obtain a free bus card without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

There are always alternative routes to online applications for those who do not have the relevant documents or who would prefer not to apply via Your local council will provide offline application routes, sometimes through schools or at local offices and libraries. You can find the contact details for your own local authority here if you want to find out more about how to apply offline.