The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about how the Council disposed of a dead cat. This is because the Council has already provided a fair response and it is unlikely an investigation would lead to a different outcome. In addition, it is unlikely the Ombudsman could achieve the outcome the complainant would like.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains about what happened after the Council found his dead cat.
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. 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 an investigation if we believe:
- the Council has already provided a fair remedy; 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.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I spoke to Mr X after he received a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The Council has a depot, with a freezer, where it stores dead pets before collection by their owners.
- Unfortunately, Mr X’s cat was killed in September 2017. The cat was very important to Mr X and when the Council rang to tell him the street cleaning team had found the body he was very upset. He said he would like to collect the remains so he could arrange a proper burial.
- The Council made arrangements to send the cat to the appropriate depot. But, something went wrong and the driver did not realise the cat was on the van. I do not know exactly what happened but the cat was not placed in the freezer. It appears the cat was either incinerated or taken to a landfill site.
- Mr X spent a lot of time trying to find out what had happened and where the body was. He searched the freezer but his cat was not there. He says the Council gave him contradictory information about what had happened and never gave him the registration number of the van so he could try to trace where the cat was finally taken. Mr X says the Council lied to him in relation to giving him information about the van.
- The Council upheld his complaint about the way it had managed the remains. It explained that something had gone wrong which was why the cat had not been taken to the depot with the freezer. It said it was not possible to retrieve the body but it reviewed its procedures to try to stop similar problems reoccurring. It said it would introduce a policy to ensure more sensitivity was shown to bereaved pet owners. It said there should be handover records to make it easier to track where pet remains are taken and there should be improved communication between the street cleaning team and the depot. The Council also said owners should be told if there is any possibility of collecting pet remains from the depot.
- Mr X is dissatisfied with the response. He says the Council’s handling of the matter was poor. It gave contradictory information and never provided the registration number of the van. Mr X is still very distressed and would like to know the final resting place of his cat.
- I will not start an investigation because the Council has already provided a fair response. It may not have addressed every point Mr X has raised and I recognise Mr X strongly objects to the Council not giving him the van registration details. But, the Council has agreed something went wrong and has introduced measures to try to improve its procedures and service. I appreciate this does not directly help Mr X but it is not possible to change what happened.
- I also will not start an investigation because it is unlikely I could add to the Council’s response or achieve the outcome Mr X. These events occurred more than a year ago. It would not now be possible to trace the movements of the van or find out where the cat was finally placed. In addition, as I have said, the Council has already provided a proportionate response.
- I will not start an investigation because the Council has already provided a proportionate response and it is unlikely an investigation would lead to a different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman