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Wedding firm U-turns on unfair refund policy after watchdog steps in

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Bijou Weddings Group has committed to provide fairer refunds to couples whose weddings can’t go ahead because of coronavirus.

The family-run firm was unable to hold wedding between 23 March and 4 July due to the lockdown restrictions.

While it offered to re-schedule weddings at no cost, for couples who didn’t want to rearrange, they were only offered a limited refund which would have left them “significantly out of pocket”, according to watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

It said the wedding firm should only have retained an amount to cover costs already incurred and couples should have been offered a fairer refund.

Bijou has now agreed to change its policy to a “fairer level” and the CMA said if it had not made this move, it could have been taken to court.

The wedding firm will prioritise refunds to customers without insurance.

Sam Cutmore-Scott, director of Bijou Weddings, said: “Bijou has been in voluntary, regular and proactive contact with the CMA in recent weeks and is pleased to have reached a workable solution. We look forward to working through the agreed partial refunds process with those of our customers who have been affected by the coronavirus lockdown and who have not rescheduled their weddings.”

Open letter to the wedding industry

The watchdog today published an open letter to the wedding industry reminding them of consumer law and customers’ rights when it comes to cancellations and refunds.

While its investigation of the industry revealed that the majority of wedding businesses are striving to reach fair arrangements with customers in challenging circumstances, there were areas of concern.

It found that some wedding businesses were refusing to offer or give appropriate refunds where weddings are or were prevented from taking place, and the use of unfair contract terms.

The CMA said that where lockdown laws mean a wedding can’t go ahead on the date agreed, the contract between a wedding business and a consumer is likely to come to an end and is described in law as ‘frustrated.’

Here, customers should be offered a full refund minus any costs of services already incurred such as for bespoke goods or buying of food or flowers for a wedding which can’t take place.

As lockdown measures have eased but there are still restrictions on the number of people who can attend ceremonies and receptions, the CMA said that where a venue, catering or entertainment can’t be provided as agreed, the more likely the contract is to be frustrated.

The guidance states: “In that case, the consumer would be due a refund. The same is likely to be true if the number of guests who can safely and lawfully attend the wedding and/or reception is radically different to that agreed in the contract. The number of guests is likely to be another key part of the wedding contract and the fewer who can attend compared to the number agreed, the more likely it is that the contract is frustrated and the consumer is due a refund of the kind described.”

However, it noted that where there’s a more limited impact, such as where a wedding can go ahead mainly as agreed, there’s less chance the contract is frustrated.

“The consumer may still be due a pro-rata price reduction for the parts of the wedding that are not provided, or provided in a different way to that agreed, but they are less likely to be due a fuller refund”, the guidance stated.

Further, where a consumer cancels, the CMA said “they shouldn’t face disproportionately high or extra charges”. And, any terms saying no refund is available in any circumstances, or that a consumer must pay in full if they cancel – without taking into account any savings to the business for not having to provide the wedding – are likely to be unfair.

Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said: “It is good news that Bijou has agreed to offer fairer levels of refunds to its customers, and we encourage other firms in the industry to follow suit.

“As lockdown lifts, couples around the country are still dealing with the impact of expensive wedding receptions that couldn’t go ahead as planned, and it’s important that they get the refunds they are due.

That’s why we’ve also published advice aimed at the wedding industry and consumers, outlining our view of how the law applies to refunds, including what, if any, deductions a wedding business can make, and unfair contract terms. We’re also writing an open letter to all wedding businesses, and directly to some, reminding them of their legal obligations.”