Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 17 Nov 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint that the Council has allowed another person to be buried partly in her cemetery plot. This is because the Council has offered a suitable remedy for Mrs X’s injustice and we cannot say it must exhume the other person from their grave as she would like.
- The complainant, Mrs X, complains the Council has allowed a third party to be buried partly in her pre-purchased grave plot which is located next to that of her mother. She says this has hugely impacted on her life and caused her distress and anxiety.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s response. I shared my draft decision with Mrs X and considered her comments.
What I found
- Mrs X’s mother died more than 10 years ago. She is buried in a Council cemetery and Mrs X pre-purchased an adjoining plot so that she could be laid to rest next to her when the time comes.
- In 2020 another individual was buried in a plot mapped as being next to Mrs X’s, on the side away from her mother’s grave. The Council says it realised soon after the burial took place that this plot overlapped with the one Mrs X had purchased. It says this was the result of the re-sizing of graves to accommodate a general increase of casket sizes and to stop grave walls collapsing. Mrs X disputes this and suggests the Council has simply not kept to the plan.
- Whatever the cause of the issue, the Council confirms Mrs X’s plot can no longer be used. Mrs X is unhappy with this and says she promised her mother she would be buried next to her.
- The Council has offered to look into the possibility of exhuming Mrs X’s mother with the intention of creating space to allow Mrs X to be buried with her. Alternatively it has offered her an alternative plot near other family members at no cost. It has also offered to refund Mrs X’s payment of £745 and pay her £1,000 compensation.
- Mrs X has not accepted the Council’s offer; she believes it should look at exhuming the person buried partly in her grave and move them elsewhere so that she can take back her plot. But this is not an outcome we can achieve for Mrs X and it is unlikely we could add to the Council’s proposed remedy. Mrs X may therefore wish to consider which of the proposals made by the Council is most acceptable to her. She is under no obligation to agree to the exhumation of her mother but if she wishes to be buried with her this is the only option available.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council has offered a suitable remedy for the complaint and we cannot achieve the outcome Mrs X wants.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman