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Couples left out of pocket due to cancelled weddings

Written by: Emma Lunn
Wedding venues have been accused of not treating customers fairly after several couples reported not receiving refunds for weddings cancelled due to the pandemic.

Which? says it is now a year since it first raised the alarm that some couples were not getting their money back for ceremonies that legally couldn’t go ahead. It says that some hotels, barns and country houses are not treating couples fairly.

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), there were 2,400 cancellation and refund complaints about weddings in the year to March 2021, with an average of £6,500 at stake.

The CMA has been clear that couples should in principle be refunded for weddings that are prevented by lockdown laws from going ahead on the agreed date. It issued guidance for businesses on contract cancellations and refunds in April 2020 and released updated advice specifically for the wedding industry in September 2020.

However, this guidance is not legally binding and as things stand, only a court can decide how the law applies in each case. Which? says the regulator should be given greater powers to deal with businesses that break the law.

Couples’ stories

Which? spoke to six couples struggling to get a refund from their venues. One couple has since come to an agreement, but five are still waiting on refunds from their venue for weddings cancelled due to Covid and stand to lose more than £26,000 in total.

One couple Which? spoke to was due to get married in May 2020 with 100 guests for the day and 140 guests in the evening. When lockdown began in March 2020, the venue postponed the wedding to March 2021 and gave the couple a new contract for the rescheduled date.

But when it got to September 2020, the government announced that a 15-person limit on weddings would likely be in place until March 2021. The couple’s wedding fell a few days outside of the six-month restrictions but they saw the CMA’s guidance and believed they would be entitled to a refund as their wedding looked unlikely to go ahead as planned – so they cancelled the event.

But the venue argued that as it was not confirmed that the September guest limit would still be in force by their wedding date in March, the wedding was cancelled by the couple and therefore, they were not entitled to a refund.

Eventually the venue offered the pair a settlement of £4,011 which it then increased to £5,000 in December. But this still meant more than £5,000 of their money would be unrecovered.

The couple has since married at another venue in November 2020 and put in a claim with their wedding insurer for the rest of the money.

Another couple Which? spoke to booked their wedding for 11 July 2020 with 120 guests. The venue cancelled in May and said it would offer another suitable date.

However, the venue did not offer a like-for-like Saturday wedding date and after looking at the CMA guidance, the couple decided to ask for a full refund. This was refused by the venue and all of their suppliers, apart from the caterers. The couple were left to foot the bill for a £700 non-refundable booking fee.

The venue claimed it had already undertaken work to justify keeping the money. But when the couple asked for an itemised breakdown of these costs the venue did not supply one.

Stronger enforcement needed

Which? says this is an industry-wide issue which continues to affect couples whose weddings have been impacted by the pandemic. The consumer champion believes the CMA must be given the right tools to prosecute companies who have clearly broken consumer law.

Which? is calling for the CMA to have stronger powers to conduct investigations and impose appropriate fines on companies that breach the law, whether in the weddings industry or in other sectors.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: “It is disappointing that some wedding venues are still ignoring guidance from the regulator and charging couples for circumstances completely beyond their control. This is especially frustrating for couples when they rearranged their wedding date early on in the pandemic at the request of the venue.

“The current system allows rogue businesses to slip through the net and does not punish those harming consumers. The Competition and Markets Authority must be given stronger powers to hold businesses accountable and fine those that break the law.”

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