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TONY HETHERINGTON: We can’t get our wedding deposit back

Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday fighting the corners of readers, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors, and gaining victories for those left out of their pockets. Here’s how to contact him.

Mrs. AH writes: My partner and I have booked a wedding reception for 60 guests at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park for July 11th.

Government restrictions on fighting the pandemic meant this could not happen as planned. Pembroke Lodge set a deadline for us to decide if we should move on but couldn’t say if they could even host our wedding, let alone how many guests would be allowed.

We couldn’t continue and asked for a refund of our £ 1,750 security deposit but they refused.

Canceled: However, Pembroke Lodge in London’s Richmond Park is not offering a refund of Ms H.’s £ 1,750 security deposit

They told me that your wedding had been planned for more than a year, with one of the attractions being that the reception would be in one of the Royal Parks in South West London.

When lockdown restrictions were announced and changed, you were urged to make a decision until June 13th, although Pembroke Lodge management still couldn’t say what would be allowed or how many guests you could have.

Since your church ceremony was still legal, you continued but canceled the reception and requested a refund. Instead, you were offered the option of postponing your reception to a new date at a later date. Pembroke Lodge added that terms and conditions do not allow for refunds.

However, when I looked at these terms and conditions, they showed that you and your partner had made the booking, but they didn’t show who was on the other end of the contract, nor the 31-page brochure from the wedding company or their very attractive website.

Pembroke Lodge is just a building, not a person or company. It turned out that the wedding business is operated by a company called The Hearsum Family Limited, which is run by chartered surveyor Daniel Hearsum.

So I asked him why he was expecting payment and confirmation of the booking in June, when he couldn’t tell from his side whether he could offer a reception at all and clearly could not offer a reception the size you had booked a year earlier .

He stated that he had withdrawn the original deadline for your decision but considered his terms and conditions to be a binding contract.

I could argue about it as the contract doesn’t name his company, but the most important thing was that he couldn’t offer the 60 person reception you booked. This wasn’t his fault, but of course it wasn’t yours either.

And during that back and forth, the Competition and Market Commissioner had done an excellent job of wedding bookings using a 1943 “frustrated contract” law that could not be executed – in this case, lockdown laws made booking impossible.

The CMA investigated a particular wedding company and allowed it to stick with certain expenses that it already had to bear, but stressed that the starting point was that couples were entitled to a full refund, even if the terms and conditions stated otherwise.

This was impressively quick and fair work by the CMA, but unfortunately another wedding company told many others that the CMA had set a “benchmark” that would allow them to keep 37 percent of the original full price minus an allowance for the time since the start of the lockdown.

And Daniel Hearsum cheerfully told me that this meant he could keep the entire £ 1,750, although he added that “we will offer a goodwill refund of £ 750 if that’s an amicable ending”.

The CMA was shocked when I was told that their boss, Andrea Coscelli, had allegedly set a benchmark that allowed wedding companies to keep a fixed percentage of deposits without having to offer a reception.

This is completely wrong, officials insisted, adding, “This is not a standard. We never used the word benchmark, and there is no such thing as a benchmark. ‘

In short, wedding companies need to justify keeping a single penny by showing that they spent on things like flowers, cars, catering staff, food, etc.

The management of Pembroke Lodge did not provide any figures and only said: “Between June 2019 and June 2020 we worked hard to prepare and plan A’s wedding.”

They claim, “We offered to cover 80 percent (around £ 6,500) of the cancellation losses.” But there is no breakdown of that amount and nothing to show what the Pembroke Lodge may or may not have already spent.

The result is that there is a £ 750 “goodwill refund” on the table, leaving you with £ 1,000 out of pocket. Only you can decide if you want to make the most of a bad job.

But I’m sure other couples will form their own opinion, and I suspect it’s closer to the CMA’s wise starting point that the customer is eligible for a full refund if a company can’t get the job done.

Will Sainsbury’s refund my card bill?

EB writes: Please help me. I am 80 years old and in poor health. I can’t get Sainsbury’s Bank to give me a refund.

The amounts in dispute are £ 375 and £ 762, both paid to Fleetway Travel using my Sainsbury card.

In any event, Sainsbury’s has notified me that Fleetway has been asked for a refund, which means Sainsbury’s has no knowledge that Fleetway has ceased trading.

Money back: Mr B. has now received his refund and a gesture of goodwill as it took a little longer than usual

Money back: Mr B. has now received his refund and a gesture of goodwill as it took a little longer than usual

Fleetway Travel was administered in July.

There was cash in the bank and other assets totaling several million pounds, but nothing enough to repay the roughly 11 million pounds owed to ordinary customers.

When a company ceases trading, card issuers must go through a chargeback process. Under the rules set by Mastercard, the company can object to the claim for 45 days even though Sainsbury’s has actually exceeded it.

A spokesman told me that you had been reassured that you would not be liable for the money or interest charged and added: “Mr B. has now received his refund and a gesture of goodwill as it took a little longer than usual Has . ‘

If you believe you have been the victim of financial misconduct, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to the high volume of inquiries, no personal answers can be given. Please only send copies of the original documents, which we unfortunately cannot return.

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