There has been recent publicity regarding the cancellations of weddings due to Covid-19. As anybody who has planned a wedding will know, some venues can book up several years in advance and obtaining a desired Saturday in the English summer can be a very difficult and expensive task. What happens therefore if you have to cancel your wedding due to Covid-19?
In booking a wedding it is likely that you will have entered into various contracts, with a venue, caterer, tailors/dressmakers/designers, florist, hairdresser etc… Each of these contracts will be subject to different terms and need to be considered independently. Remember, oral agreements are as enforceable as documented ones.
Insurance: It is always advisable when booking an event such as a wedding, that adequate insurance is taken out to cover cancellation. You will need to carefully read your policy as there will be risks which are not covered. For example, the risk of the bride or groom changing their mind will unlikely be covered. However, whether Covid-19 would be covered under a policy will depend upon the wording of it, the time it was taken out and the date of the booking with the supplier(s). It is unlikely that if you have booked a wedding or any services after the Covid-19 pandemic had started, that you would be covered under a policy. If the wedding was booked prior to any knowledge of the situation, then you may be covered. Once you have read the policy you should contact your insurer in a timely fashion, as often there is a requirement to notify your insurer within a certain time period; sometimes this is as short as 14 days. The failure to notify in time may lead to a claim being refused.
You should discuss the situation with your insurer and make a note of with whom you have spoken, the date, time and what has been said to you. If it is agreed that they will meet the claim, then the matter is likely to come to a satisfactory end. If the insurer refuses the meet the claim, you do have the right of lodging a formal complaint with the insurance company and if it still remains unresolved, then you can refer the matter to the Insurance Ombudsman, the details of which can be found at www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.
No Insurance Cover: In the event you do not have insurance that covers you, then you will need to consider the terms of your contracts with your venue and other suppliers. The venue is likely to be the largest expense and you will need to see what the provisions are for cancellation. This will largely depend on the wording in the contract. There is a duty on a party under a contract to mitigate (reduce) its losses. With the venue, it is hard to see how it could mitigate its losses where there is a government lockdown restricting the movement and gathering of people. The venue is unlikely to be able to let the room to anyone else. However, where you have booked a catering supplier, or the venue is providing food and drink, then there is an argument that so long as some notice has been provided, and the cancellation has not been immediately before the event, it may not need to incur the costs of food, drink and staff. You would therefore hope that there would be a substantial discount on the sum you are required to pay.
Consumer Rights: There is additional protection available where the contract is between a consumer and a business, rather than between two businesses. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) sets out certain circumstances where terms are unfair and not enforceable. In particular, terms where the consumer is required to fulfil all of its obligations, where the trader does not perform the trader’s obligations, for example, where you are required to pay for the hire of the wedding venue but the venue is closed due to the lockdown. In such circumstances it is possible that you will be entitled to a refund of what you have already paid and that you will not be required to pay any further sums. This will require the cancellation rather than the postponement of your wedding.
There have been suggestions in the press that rather than cancelling the wedding, some venues are allowing people to rebook an alternative date at no extra cost. You should consider what your preference is, whether it is to cancel it and request a refund or to try to rebook it. If rebooking, and where the dates being offered are weekdays such as Monday to Wednesday, rather than the more popular days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you may wish to see if you can get the supplier to reduce the cost or include some extras to make up for this.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have launched an investigation into reports that businesses are failing to respect cancellation rights during this pandemic. If the discussions do not go well with your supplier then it will be worth mentioning your rights under the CRA 2015. Where you have already paid money, it may be difficult to get the supplier to return it to you voluntarily, leaving you with the options of a report to CMA or the issue of Court proceedings. It is advisable to seek legal advice before embarking on court proceedings.
The above is accurate as at 1 May 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.