Cancellations and Postponements of Wedding Services
Due to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the measures taken to prevent the spread of the disease, many couples had to postpone or cancel their 2020 weddings. Whilst we now have roadmaps that give us an idea of when we can hope to see a return to larger weddings, this is still dependent on data, meaning that couples, venues and suppliers may still be seeking guidance on the law regarding cancellations and postponements.
The CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) has issued guidance on refunds and cancellations for the wedding sector, however, it is widely considered to be misleading and confusing. You can read the full CMA guidance here.
If you decided to postpone
Regardless of when your wedding is, you can come to a voluntary agreement with your venue and suppliers as an alternative to cancellation. In most cases, couples and venues agreed to postpone the date, in which case you don’t need to read any further. Postponing is by far the most helpful approach you can take, minimising or eliminating any financial risk and helping the wider wedding economy.
If you choose to postpone, please remember to check that all your suppliers are able to move to the new date before confirming it!
Weddings during lockdown
The CMA’s view is that contracts for weddings due to take place during lockdown are ‘frustrated’. The wedding can’t go ahead as contracted and if a postponement isn’t possible, the couple would usually be eligible for a refund, less costs already incurred, where they are unable to receive the benefit from the service they booked. If they are able to receive some benefit, that should be taken into consideration when establishing if a refund is due.
Weddings straight after lockdown
Any weddings immediately following lockdown that are significantly impacted by the restrictions would also be considered to be “frustrated” contracts. This would be the case if, for example, a key part of the wedding such as the evening reception could not go ahead, or you are only allowed much lower numbers. Now that we have a clearer picture on restrictions and dates, it is easier to see whether your plans will be affected.
The situation becomes less clear when the majority of the wedding can go ahead as planned, but some elements are still missing. For some couples, unless there is dancing, it isn’t a wedding. For others, it is having more than a particular number of guests that tips the balance as to whether to go ahead or not. The UK Weddings Taskforce has asked the government for help in defining a “minimum viable wedding” but it is hard to define as it is different for every couple.
If you choose to go ahead, the CMA suggest that, to avoid the risk of a breach of contract for the service not being supplied as contracted, businesses should offer a refund of the part of the service not supplied, as agreed between the parties. However, this is unlikely to be a workable solution where businesses have calculated prices based on economies of scale, such as for marquees, catering, cakes and flowers, or for those where there are no reductions in their cost to supply their service to less guests, such as photographers, DJs, bands and hire-only venues.
If you choose to cancel
If your wedding has not been significantly impacted, or if the date is too far away to be sure if it will be, you still have the choice to cancel. However, you will not automatically be entitled to a full refund, less costs, in the way you will be if the contract is frustrated. The business accepted your booking in good faith and should understandably be protected in many cases.
The businesses normal terms and conditions would apply, as long as those terms are considered fair and reasonable.
The CMA do not consider it to be fair and reasonable to charge in full for a service that has not been supplied, not to charge for non-refundable deposits where the reason for the amount charged can’t be justified. The business would be expected to take into consideration their actual losses and also the savings the business will have in not fulfilling the contract.
How can I avoid any issues?
The CMA’s guidance was intended to help to resolve a lot of the clashes between couples and businesses but in practice, it has caused more issues than it has resolved.
For their part, couples can communicate with their venues and suppliers in order to make the process of changing their wedding date easier. If those businesses are kept in the loop, they can work together with you to identify a date that works for them and it can avoid unnecessary cancellations.
If a refund is appropriate, bear in mind that the business may not be in the best position to refund you in full right away, so please try to be understanding with them. Ultimately, until the CMA’s guidance is scrutinised by the court, many venues and businesses will be reluctant to issue any refunds at this early stage until they have more guidance on what may constitute reasonable costs.
If you can agree to a postponement rather than cancelling your plans, you are far less likely to lose money.
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