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Medway Council (18 016 370)

Category : Environment and regulation > Cemeteries and crematoria

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Mar 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms B complains about the service and information provided by the Council in connection with her parents’ memorial plaque. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint because it is unlikely we can add to the investigation already carried out by the Council and an investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome.

The complaint

  1. Ms B complains about the service and information provided by the Council in connection with her parents’ memorial plaque and about the way it dealt with her complaint about these matters.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I reviewed the information provided by Ms B and the Council. I gave Ms B the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and I considered the comments she made.

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What I found

  1. In 1988 Ms B purchased a plaque in the Council’s crematorium for her late father which was due for renewal in 1998. Ms B says she was the plaque applicant and has documentation which appears to support her claim. The Council’s records show Ms B’s mother was the applicant for Ms B’s father’s cremation but it has no record now of who was the applicant for any subsequent memorials purchased at that time.
  2. In 1997 Ms B’s mother died and Ms B and her sister arranged for a joint plaque for their parents. In error, in 1998, the Council took down the plaque but put it up again and extended the plaque lease by a further year to 2009.
  3. In 2018 Ms B contacted the Council about the plaque and was advised, contrary to her understanding, that its records showed that the named owner of the plaque lease was not Ms B but another person.
  4. In July 2018 Ms B wrote to the Council’s Bereavement Service to ask why it had changed its records from 1988 when she had been the owner and to state that she had not given permission for the change. She asked the Council to investigate the matter and to amend its records to note she and the other person as joint owners.
  5. The Council responded by explaining that the person, who they assume to be Ms B’s sister, was added to the application for the plaque in 1997 when Ms B’s mother died. It explained it did not allow joint ownership and that she would need the owner’s permission to change ownership to Ms B. It also told her if the lease was not renewed it could look at moving the lease to her or she could purchase her own memorial as close as possible to the existing one.
  6. Dissatisfied with the response, Ms B pursued her complaint through the Council’s complaints procedure. The Council explained its records showed that when Ms B’s father passed away, her mother had been the applicant for the cremation but that it had no record of who was the applicant of the plaque at that time. It also said that when Ms B’s mother passed away, another person, but not Ms B, took on the role of applicant. The Council explained only one person could be listed as the applicant and that this would have been explained at the time of purchase. It also advised that due to the General Data Protection Regulations it could not give information out about the current lease owner.
  7. The Council responded to the list of questions Ms B presented at the second stage of its complaints procedure as far as its records, and the Data Protection rules, allowed.

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Assessment

  1. I understand Ms B has been distressed to discover that, despite paying for the memorial originally in 1988, and believing she had continued to be the applicant since that time, it is her sister who is listed as the applicant following her mother’s death in 1997. The Council has explained its procedures do not allow for joint ownership and has set out the options available to Ms B if there is agreement either to change ownership or if she wishes to make her own memorial application. While I understand Ms B is unhappy with the situation, an investigation by the Ombudsman is unlikely to add to that already carried out by the Council and is unlikely to lead to a different outcome.
  2. The general discretion we have not to investigate complaints about data protection, highlighted at paragraph 3, applies to the part of Ms B’s complaint about her dissatisfaction with the Council’s responses to her requests for information and her claims that there have been breaches of the data protection rules.
  3. Ms B says the Council should report itself to the Information Commissioner because it has breached the data protection rules. However, the Council cannot provide Ms B with information it does not have and it has told her it does not consider the circumstances of her case are such that it should self-refer to the Information Commissioner. I have not seen anything to suggest it is unreasonable for Ms B to complain to the Commissioner herself and this body is better placed to consider data protection complaints.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we can add to the investigation already carried out by the Council and an investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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