It’s a testing time for us all, but if you’re planning a wedding and are facing the tough decision of having to cancel or postpone your big day amid the COVID-19 crisis, we’re here to lend a helping hand.
We’ve consulted wedding planners and consumer rights experts to talk you through the processes and your legal rights when it comes to cancelling your wedding amid the coronavirus crisis.
Weddings and Covid-19: Cancellations, Legal Rights and Advice
UPDATE: What the new government guidelines mean for your 2020 wedding.
A U-turn in government coronavirus guidelines recently saw social distancing restrictions tightened in the UK. Rules banning social gatherings of six people or more will come into action on Monday 14th September in England, Scotland and Wales.
However, unlike the initial lockdown, this new ‘rule of six’ – which could see rule-breakers face fines of up to £3,200 – does not currently apply to wedding ceremonies in the UK.
However, on Tuesday 22nd September, the Prime Minister announced weddings and ‘sit-down’ receptions will now be limited to 15 people.
Previously, small ceremonies (with a total of 30 people) were given the green light from 4th July. Keep up to date with the latest government guidelines here.
While this is welcome news for many after months of uncertainty, for others it could mean your big day will look vastly different to the one you’ve spent months imagining and planning for.
For staters, you may have to dramatically cut down your guest list. However, it’s the strict rules the proceedings of the day that have us a little worried. These include a ban on food, drink and sining and during the ceremony. The government guidance also state father’s shouldn’t walk their daughters down the aisle and suggest axing wedding receptions.
So, what does this mean for your rights now that weddings – in some shape or form – are able to take place?
What are your legal rights? Have they changed with the new guidelines
“Couples’ legal rights have changed in both obvious ways – such as the number of guests allowed reducing from 30 to 15 – as well as in more subtle ways,” says Gary Rycroft, a consumer law expert and chair of the Law Society’s digital assets working group.
However, in deciding to postpone your wedding, rather than not being able to get married at all, there are different legal implications. According to Gary, this makes the situation less clear cut.
“The change in scale of weddings may change the nature of the event originally booked to the extent it is no longer viable for the couples or venues,” he adds. “What I mean here is that the wedding may have been forced to be so small that there are grounds to cancel or postpone it.”
Moreover, as the global situation develops, the timing of your initial booking can play a big part in your ability to cancel or postpone and little or no cost.
“We have to divide the advice for couples looking to cancel or postpone their weddings into those who booked pre- and post-Covid [i.e. pre or post March 2020),” said Mr Rycroft.
“If they booked pre-Covid, couples can discuss how the event has changed so fundamentally in nature and scale that the original contract is ‘frustrated’ which would equate to a full refund.
“For events booked post-Covid, clearly these arguments do not apply as the couples were on notice of the potential risk of change to the rules. That said, the wise counsel remains that negotiation is the best way forward as reaching an agreement which feels fair to everyone.”
You should make sure you’ve scanned through your contracts with suppliers with a fine-toothed comb, as the new terms around weddings in lockdown could render your contracts void. Communication is key, and it’s important you are in regular context with your venue and vendors to make sure both parties are up to speed on the latest guidelines and wedding protocol.
What about your wedding insurance?
The position with insurance will be as it was when there was a total ban – whether couples are covered depends on the wording of their policy and what exclusions there may be.
So, do policies cover the cancellations of weddings due to Covid-19?
As with all types of insurance, it really depends on your policy. According to Bernadette, some insurance providers are covering the costs of cancelling or postponing your wedding, however others are saying it depends on the date of wedding, while some are even suggesting the decision to cancel won’t be covered at all.
“If venues cancel there should be no doubt a full refund should be paid – minus only minor admin charges or costs incurred to date, such as menu tasting,” says Gary Rycroft
He adds: “Any shortfall in loses should be claimed on insurance subject to the terms of the policy concerned. Always read the T&C’s of policies as they are all different!”
You should contact your wedding insurance provider immediately for a clear outline of what is and isn’t covered in your policy before you make any big decisions.
What were the rules on weddings in lockdown?
Following some weeks of uncertainty and self-isolation, the UK government announced a state of ‘lockdown’ on Monday 23 March 2020, which saw an immediate ban on all social gatherings, including weddings over the next three weeks.
“I welcome the statement from our prime minister stating weddings are not allowed to happen,” states Bernadette Chapman, Founder of The UK Alliance of Wedding Planners (UKAWP).
“This sends a strong message to venues and couples that weddings over the next 21 days need to be cancelled or postponed. This means couples who wanted to do so, but were thwarted by their venue can now move forward and choose a new date”.
So, while there’s now some clarity on whether or not your wedding should go ahead, it raises a whole new bunch of questions and concerns about your legal rights, refunds and protocol when it comes to cancelling your wedding.
“Couples whose weddings are cancelled during this period will be legally entitled to a refund,” says Gary Rycroft.
What does lockdown mean for your wedding?
“If marrying in the next three weeks, you are now required to move the date of your wedding due to the national lockdown,” Bernadette explains.
“Furthermore, I would plan on moving weddings due to take place before June,” she continues. “Couples may find it hard to find a suitable replacement date in 2020, and key dates for 2021 are already getting filled quickly.”
Consumer law expert Gary Rycroft adds: “Things will become much more complicated as and when the ban on weddings is lifted while other Covid-19 restrictions are in place.
“If couples choose to cancel in these circumstances, they will have turn to their wedding insurance policy and the terms and conditions of contracts to see how much money they can recover.”
Additionally, if your wedding is due to take place this summer, even after the initial three-week lockdown, it may be worth contacting your venue to hold another date later this year or for next year, as we still don’t really know how long the social distancing measures could last.
What processes should be followed when cancelling or postponing your wedding?
“When cancelling or postponing, speaking to wedding businesses, venues and caterers directly should always be the first port of call,” says Gary.
“In the current circumstances, any sensible business will be open to a postponement. If cancellation or a refund is not possible through talking to the business and couples need to contact their insurer, they should always check the terms and conditions of their wedding insurance to see exactly what circumstances it covers.”
What should venues be doing to help?
Following the ‘lockdown’ announcement and stricter measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, many venues that have been forced to close will be offering a change of date. However, this again depends on the venue and you should contact them immediately to find out what contingency plan is in place at your chosen venue.
What about destination weddings? Will couples be able to claim full refunds due to travel bans?
“Provided [you] booked through an ABTA registered travel agent, you should get the cost of the fights and hotel back in full,” says Bernadette. However, this will only cover the ‘holiday’ aspect of your destination wedding. Again, you should speak with your insurers as soon as possible with regards to claiming refunds for the wedding.
“If you plan to postpone your wedding, speak with your wedding planner and the venue, as soon as possible,” Bernadette adds. “Some international weddings are being postponed free of charge, but some venues and suppliers are classing this as cancellations and so you will need to book and pay again (unless this is covered by your insurance.”
What about guests coming from abroad to a wedding in the UK?
According to consumer law expert, Gary, the ‘usual rule is that if a flight is cancelled by the airline the passenger is entitled to a full refund.’
“In the UK, if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office recommend not to travel to a destination, flights often get cancelled,” he adds.
“If flight is not cancelled travel insurance becomes key and whether guests are entitled to a refund will all depend on what their particular policy covers and when it was taken out.”
Weddings and Covid-19: How will coronavirus affect the wedding industry?
Although brides are baring the brunt of the disappointment and emotions, this has also been devastating for wedding businesses.
“With weddings cancelling and moving to prime 2021 dates, it meany [businesses] have already missed almost a season’s worth of revenue,” Bernadette explains.
“We would urge any couples postponing, whose suppliers have done so with no extra charge, to stick the original payment terms for 2020.”
What will weddings look like after Covid-19?
We’ve been looking into our Wedding Ideas crystal ball to come up with some theories and trends set to take hold in the wedding industry following on from the coronavirus pandemic.
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- 7 Things to Consider Before Setting Your Wedding Date