The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published its view on your rights to a refund if your wedding was affected by COVID-19.
Which? spoke to 25 couples at the start of lockdown who were battling for refunds after their dream days were shattered due to the pandemic.
The CMA’s newly published statement is a ‘direct response to clear and urgent problems being experienced in this industry sector’.
It sets out the watchdog’s view on how much money you should expect to be refunded, and the T&Cs that might be considered unfair and unenforceable.
Here, Which? explains your rights if your wedding has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Am I entitled to a refund for my wedding?
My wedding was scheduled between late March 2020 and late September 2020
If your wedding couldn’t go ahead due to lockdown restrictions, the CMA says your contract is likely to have come to an end.
In legal terms, this means your contract has been ‘frustrated’ and you should be entitled to a refund for money already paid.
You should also be refunded any ‘non-refundable’ deposits or advance payments and are no longer liable to fulfil any more payments.
If your wedding was scheduled between late March 2020 and late September 2020, the CMA says it’s reasonable that you would have taken the view that your wedding couldn’t go ahead.
Your contract is therefore ‘frustrated’ and you should be entitled to a refund.
The wedding venue or supplier may be able to withhold certain costs for expenses already incurred, but it’s up to the business to justify this.
My wedding can go ahead but not as planned
If your wedding can go ahead, but with significant changes to what was initially agreed, you may also be entitled to a refund.
Your contract is likely to have been frustrated, for example, if you’re allowed far fewer guests than you’d planned for.
In this case, the CMA expects you to be entitled to money back.
If there are only small changes to your wedding day, such as social distancing measures that guests have to adhere to, but the venue, catering and reception could go ahead as planned, it’s less likely you’ll be entitled to a refund.
But the business could be in breach of contract if it fails to provide elements of the wedding agreed in the contract.
Where this is the case, the CMA suggests businesses should offer a pro-rata price reduction to reflect the services it hasn’t provided.
My wedding has been affected by new local lockdown restrictions
While lockdown has eased in most parts of the country, certain areas have had restrictions re-enforced.
If new lockdown restrictions prevent your wedding from taking place, this means your contract with the business has been frustrated, and you’d be entitled to a refund in the CMA’s view.
How the CMA’s guidance works with wedding insurance
Which? recently reported a leading insurance company – UK General Insurance – to the financial regulator after finding it was using dubious tactics to deny claims for wedding cancellations.
The CMA’s statement, however, only sets out its view of your rights to a refund from a wedding business – not an insurance provider.
It says a consumer’s ability to make a claim depends on the terms of their policy with the insurer.
What costs can and can’t be deducted from my refund?
Costs that can be deducted
Your venue or supplier may be entitled to deduct costs incurred from your refund.
There’s no automatic legal right for them to do this and it would be up to a court to decide whether the deduction was fair.
The CMA’s view is that it would be fair for the business to retain money for:
- Services or products that have already been provided to you, such as bespoke goods, that you could use at a rearranged wedding.
- Costs incurred by the business preparing for the wedding (for example, the cost of staff planning the wedding, or the costs of perishable goods such as food or flowers).
These costs must have been incurred before the wedding was prevented from going ahead and must be directly related to your cancelled wedding.
The CMA expects a court would likely consider dividing the costs between the business and the consumer, since neither is at fault for the wedding not being able to take place.
A court may also consider the fact that the business could spread the recovery of its costs over its future contracts.
Costs that can’t be deducted
Your wedding venue or supplier can’t deduct costs for anything that produces ‘ongoing and reusable benefits’ for their business, the CMA says.
If the costs are for something such as general refurbishment or maintenance, you shouldn’t have these costs deducted from your refund.
In the CMA’s view, your venue or supplier also can’t deduct costs for:
- Fixed costs it would have incurred regardless of your wedding, such as rental payments, general staff costs or utility costs
- Any costs that it could recover from another source, such as a government support scheme for businesses during the pandemic
- The cost of administering the refund.
Unfair contract terms
Your venue or supplier might try to impose T&Cs that mean they don’t have to refund you.
The CMA says a court would be likely to find these terms unfair and unenforceable.
Here are the terms to look out for:
Your contract might include terms that say the business can provide something substantially different to what was initially agreed, such as a smaller wedding or venue.
These ‘variation clauses’ are likely to be unfair and unenforceable.
You must be given advance notice of any proposed changes, as well as the option to reject the change and get a refund.
If you do accept the change, you should be given a pro-rata reduction in price.
Businesses shouldn’t pressure you to accept new arrangements.
Your contract might include a clause that says you have to pay a cancellation charge.
If your wedding can go ahead, but you still want to cancel, the CMA’s view is that you should not face disproportionately high charges for ending the contract.
Terms that state you must pay in full if you cancel, or that a refund is not available under any circumstances, are likely to be unfair and unenforceable.
A business can only deduct costs it’s lost as a result of the cancellation and costs can’t be excessive.
The contract must also set out clearly how the cancellation charge will be calculated.
- Find out more: how to complain about an unfair term
Bijou agrees to offer fairer refunds
Which? spoke to 10 couples at the beginning of lockdown who were struggling to secure refunds from the Bijou Weddings group, which operates four venues in the UK.
Couples were told they would have to pay an 80% cancellation fee of the total cost of their wedding, despite the fact the venue was cancelling.
In lieu of a like-for-like replacement date, couples were also told they wouldn’t be refunded the price difference for new dates priced lower than their original booking.
Bijou has now agreed to offer a fairer level of partial refund to couples who didn’t want to reschedule their weddings and is expected to communicate this to all affected customers.
Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: ‘Couples who had their wedding plans dashed by the pandemic will be relieved to see that the CMA has issued this new guidance, making it clearer what refunds they are entitled to if restrictions stopped their big day from going ahead.
How to get a refund
Here’s what to do if you’re struggling to get a refund.
1. Try to come to an agreement with the venue or supplier
It’s best to try and settle on an agreement with your wedding venue or supplier first.
Don’t be pressured into rearranging the wedding to another date if you don’t want to – the option of a refund should be clearly and easily available.
2. Ask for a clear breakdown of costs
If you’re not happy with the refund offered, ask the business to give you a clear explanation of how they’ve deducted costs and calculated your refund.
3. Report the business
If you still can’t come to an agreement, you can report the business to the CMA, who has powers to take enforcement action. You can also contact your local authority trading standards services.
4. Take legal action
The business might be engaging in misleading action or aggressive practice, which is a breach of consumer protection law. If you feel this is the case you can start a claim against the company.