The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned wedding venues about unfair treatment of couples whose weddings are affected by COVID-19.
In September, the CMA released its position paper on your rights to a refund if the pandemic prevents your wedding from going as planned.
The watchdog also took action against the Bijou Weddings Group, which did not reimburse customers as instructed.
Since then, the CMA has said it has continued to receive new complaints from couples about other wedding companies.
Some couples believe they have been misled about the amount of the refund to which they are entitled, while others have been charged a higher price for changing an alternative appointment.
The wedding companies risk enforcement action – including a refund obligation – if they do not change their practices.
If you’re struggling to get a fair refund for your wedding, read on to learn more about your rights and the refund to which you are entitled.
First published on September 7th, 2020. Last updated on November 26th, 2020
Am I eligible for a refund for my wedding?
My wedding was scheduled during the first or second national lockdown
If your wedding can’t take place due to lockdown restrictions, the CMA says your contract has likely ended.
Legally, this means that your contract has become “frustrated” and you should be eligible for a refund for any money already paid.
You should also be refunded any non-refundable deposits or prepayments and are no longer required to make any further payments.
According to the CMA, if your wedding was scheduled between late March 2020 and late September 2020, it is reasonable that you would have considered that your wedding could not take place.
As a result, your contract is “frustrated” and you should be eligible for a refund.
The same principles apply if your wedding did not take place due to the ban on ceremonies in England during the winter closure.
The wedding venue or supplier may be able to withhold certain costs for expenses already incurred, but it is up to the company to justify this.
But my wedding cannot take place as planned
The CMA guidelines state that if your day continues but there have been significant changes to the terms originally agreed, you may be eligible for a refund.
Your contract is likely to be frustrated, for example if you are allowed to have far fewer guests than you planned in your contract.
In this case, the CMA expects you to be entitled to a refund.
If there are only minor changes on your wedding day, e.g. B. Social distancing measures that guests must adhere to, but the venue, catering and reception can go as planned, you are less likely to be eligible for a refund.
However, the company could be in breach of contract if it fails to deliver items to the wedding as stipulated in the contract.
In this case, the CMA suggests that companies should offer a pro-rated price cut to reflect the services they are not providing.
Regional restrictions affected my wedding
If new regional lockdown restrictions prevent your wedding from taking place, it means that your contract with the company has become frustrated and the CMA believes you are eligible for a refund.
How the CMA’s guide works with wedding insurance
Which? Recently, a leading insurance company – UK General Insurance – reported to the Financial Regulator after discovering that it was using dubious tactics to deny wedding cancellation claims.
However, the CMA’s statement only sets out your view of your rights to reimbursement from a wedding company – not an insurer.
It is said that a consumer’s ability to make a claim depends on the terms of his policy with the insurer.
What costs can and cannot be deducted from my refund?
Costs that can be deducted
Your venue or supplier may be entitled to deduct the costs incurred from your reimbursement.
There is no automatic legal right for them to do so, and it would be for a court to decide whether the deduction is fair.
According to the CMA, it would be fair for the company to keep money for:
- Services or products already provided, such as B. bespoke merchandise that you can use in a newly arranged wedding.
- Costs incurred by the company preparing for the wedding (for example, the cost of staff planning the wedding or the cost of perishable goods such as groceries or flowers).
These costs must have been incurred before the wedding was prevented and must be directly related to your canceled wedding.
The CMA believes that a court would likely consider splitting the cost between the company and the consumer, as neither is to blame for the wedding not to happen.
A court may also take into account the fact that the company could spread the reimbursement of its costs over its future contracts.
If your contract is for venue rental only, the CMA expects you to be refunded in full.
Costs that cannot be deducted
Your wedding venue or supplier cannot deduct a cost for anything that has “ongoing and reusable benefits” to their business, says the CMA.
If there are general renovation or maintenance costs incurred, these costs should not be deducted from your refund.
Also, in the CMA’s view, your venue or supplier cannot deduct costs for:
- Fixed costs that would have arisen regardless of your wedding, such as rent payments, general staff costs or ancillary costs
- Any costs that could be covered from another source, e.g. B. a government support program for businesses during the pandemic
- The cost of managing the refund.
Rebooking your wedding date
If you want to rebook your wedding for a similar date and service, you should not be asked to pay additional fees.
The option to get a refund should also be available.
Unfair contract terms
Your venue or supplier may be trying to impose terms and conditions that mean they don’t have to reimburse you.
The CMA says a court would likely find these terms unfair and unenforceable.
Here are the terms to look out for:
Your contract may contain terms that state that the company can offer something materially different from what was originally agreed, such as: B. a smaller wedding or a smaller venue.
These “amending clauses” are likely to be unfair and unenforceable.
You must be given advance notice of any proposed changes, as well as the option to decline the change and receive a refund.
If you accept the change, you should receive a proportionate price reduction.
You shouldn’t pressure companies to accept new agreements.
Your contract may have a clause that says you will have to pay a cancellation fee.
If your wedding can take place but you decide to cancel, the CMA believes that you will not have to pay disproportionately high fees to terminate the contract.
Terms that say you must pay in full if you cancel or that no refund is available under any circumstances are likely to be unfair and unenforceable.
A company can only deduct costs that are lost due to the cancellation, and the costs cannot be excessive.
The contract must also clearly state how the cancellation fee will be calculated.
Bijou agrees to offer fairer refunds
Which? spoke to 10 couples at the start of the lockdown who were struggling to get refunds from the Bijou Weddings group, which operates four venues across the UK.
The couples were told they would have to pay a cancellation fee equal to 80% of the total cost of their wedding despite the venue being canceled.
Instead of a comparable replacement date, the couples were also informed that they would not be reimbursed for the price difference for new dates whose price was lower than their original booking.
Bijou has now agreed to offer a fairer partial refund to couples who did not want to postpone their weddings, and it is expected to be communicated to all affected customers.
Adam French, which one? Consumer law expert said: ‘Couples whose wedding plans have been shattered by the pandemic will be relieved that the CMA has issued these new guidelines to make it clearer what refunds they are entitled to if restrictions prevent their big day from moving on.
‘We have already reported several issues with wedding venues including Bijou avoiding their legal responsibility for refunds and cancellations by potentially applying unfair terms and conditions. So it is good to see that the regulator outlines its expectations and is ready to take enforcement action against companies that continue to break the law. ‘
How to get a refund
Here’s what to do if you’re having trouble getting a refund.
1. Try to reach an agreement with the venue or supplier
It is best to try to make an arrangement with your wedding venue or supplier first.
Don’t be pressured to reschedule the wedding if you don’t want to – the option of a refund should be readily available.
2. Ask for a clear breakdown of costs
If you are not satisfied with the refund they offer, ask the company to provide you with a clear explanation of how the cost was deducted and your refund calculated.
3. Report the deal
If you still can’t reach an agreement, you can report the deal to the CMA, which has the power to take enforcement action. You can also refer to the trade standards of your local authority.
4. Take legal action
The company may engage in misleading acts or aggressive practices, which is a violation of consumer protection law. If you believe this is the case, you can file a lawsuit against the company.