About 250,000 weddings take place in the UK each year – adding an estimated £10bn to the economy.
But ceremonies this year have been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak.
If yours was cancelled, or you are thinking about postponing, what are your rights – and are you entitled to a refund?
Are weddings allowed to take place at the moment?
Only in exceptional circumstances.
The prime minister banned weddings and christenings when lockdown started on 23 March, and that guidance is still in effect.
However, the government is looking into allowing small weddings to start taking place again in England. This may be as soon as June, but bigger celebrations are unlikely to be permitted until later on. Weddings in Wales and Scotland are also currently on hold.
Some English councils have also applied for emergency powers to allow weddings where one partner is ill.
What should I do if I am due to get married soon?
If your wedding cannot take place, or you feel it will be too different from the day you wanted, it is generally better to postpone rather than cancel it.
Check alternative dates with your venue as soon as possible, and then ask your suppliers if they would also be able to switch.
Couples ”do need to be understanding of what venues and suppliers are going through at the moment”, says Henrietta Dunkley of Ellis Jones Solicitors. She specialises in dispute resolution, and is due to get married in August.
Many venues and suppliers are likely to have lost significant sums of money, so try to find a solution that works for everyone, she advises.
For example, if the wedding was on a Friday or Saturday or in peak season and the venue can’t offer an equivalent date, it’s generally reasonable to ask for a fee reduction, or an upgrade in the service you will receive.
What if I want to cancel?
If your ceremony was due while weddings were banned, you should generally be entitled to a full refund if you don’t want to postpone.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says in most cases this would be if:
- A business cancels on you
- The lockdown means a business can’t provide a service
- You can’t proceed with the event because of the lockdown
An exception is the costs a business has incurred on your behalf already, such as a wedding meal tasting or a dress fitting.
As a result, venues and suppliers may be entitled to keep all or part of your deposit, but consumer rights law states they must give you a breakdown of costs.
If your wedding is coming up and may technically be allowed to take place, that’s where things become trickier.
Read the small print in your contract to check the rules on cancellation or date changes of the businesses you are using. And then ask them what they are prepared to offer.
Under consumer rights law, contract clauses that could be deemed unfair may be unenforceable, even if you previously agreed to them. Any ”non-refundable” deposit can only have been a small percentage of the total price.
Can I claim on wedding insurance?
Most wedding insurance does not cover a ”government act”, so it is unlikely to pay out if the lockdown affected your wedding.
A few wedding insurers are paying out now under some circumstances. For example, John Lewis suggests it will refund you if restrictions mean your wedding cannot be held and you can demonstrate you have tried to recoup the money from your venue and suppliers.
Many, if not all insurers are not selling new wedding policies, so this only covers existing agreements.
If not, you may have to register a claim with the administrator or can claim up to £30,000 per supplier from your credit card company for services not rendered, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
If you paid on debit card you may be able to secure a refund under the chargeback scheme.
Can suppliers and venues charge me more if I postpone?
Businesses are not allowed to profiteer from the pandemic, meaning they cannot just hike up their prices.
Ms Dunkley says some couples have found venues are charging them far more for a postponed wedding than if they tried to book the same date as a new customer. This is unlikely to be deemed reasonable.
However, she adds it is fair for an equivalent wedding in 2021 to cost slightly more, because of inflation – the rise in costs for goods and services over time – and to reflect an increase in supply costs.
The CMA has set up a taskforce to investigate harmful pricing practices during the pandemic. Consumers can fill in this form if they feel a business has treated them unfairly.
Some insurance policies will pay out if your supplier or venue goes bust.