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Cancelled weddings: are you struggling to get a refund?

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have scuppered many couples’ plans this year. Have you been forced to cancel your wedding due to the coronavirus crisis?

Lockdown restrictions are playing havoc with many couples’ dreams of tying the knot this summer.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

I’ve recently spoken with a number of couples who have faced difficulties when trying to rearrange their dates or get their money back from venues.

Some told us their insurance providers aren’t paying out either.

If you’re facing challenges with your venue or suppliers, here’s some more info about your rights.

Is your cancellation policy fair?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently looking into cancellation policy concerns in these sectors:

🔹 Weddings and private events

🔹 Holiday accommodation

🔹 Nursery and childcare providers

Its guidance for businesses states that it expects customers to be refunded where they have cancelled or haven’t received a service due to coronavirus restrictions.

This includes non-refundable deposits and advance payments. Admin fees for processing refunds should also be waived.

If you don’t feel your venue or supplier is following these guidelines, you can report them to the CMA.

Next steps

Despite the CMA’s guidance, I’ve been hearing from many couples who have experienced problems when trying to rebook or get a refund.

If you think your venue may be acting unfairly or flouting the CMA’s guidance, here’s what you can do:

🔹 Check your terms and conditions carefully, looking out for any terms that give too much power to the venue. These terms might be considered unfair and could be unenforceable.

🔹 Read up on your rights when cancelling a service – they will differ depending on whether you or the venue cancelled.

🔹 Make a claim with your bank – if you paid by credit card you may be able to make a Section 75 claim and if you paid by debit card you can try using chargeback.

🔹 Report the venue to the CMA or the financial ombudsman.

If you’re not being offered your money back for a service you haven’t received due to COVID-19, whether it’s from your venue, suppliers or insurance provider, we’d like to hear from you.

Are you struggling to get a refund or suitable postponement date for your wedding?

Share your story in the comments below.

Comments

Check out CMA letter to “Wedding and event venue provider” dated 2 March 2016 together with Scottish Trading Standards investigation into unfair contracts at wedding venues 2018

Tom says:
28 May 2020

We have been offered a refund by our venue as our wedding can no longer go ahead as planed due to the government restrictions and they could not offer us a suitable postponement date. This leaves us in the position that we are having to contact suppliers to say that the day is not going ahead. We are not sure what are rights are regarding getting deposits back from suppliers, or whether it’s fair for them to charge a cancellation fee, as we are the ones informing them that the day is no longer going ahead. Our insurance provider won’t pay out either.

Hi Tom

I am sorry to read that your wedding is unable to go ahead this year as planned. I appreciate that this will be very disappointing but am pleased that you have received a full refund from the wedding venue.

Provided that the date on which your wedding was due to take place is captured by the current government advice and restrictions, the situation should be the same with the suppliers. In accordance with section 1 of the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 the contract has been frustrated and you are entitled to a refund of all sums paid in respect of the contract.

I hope the above information is of assistance. If you would like to discuss this matter in more detail then please do get in contact with Which? Legal to explore your membership options.

This information is provided by Which? Legal. To join call 01174 054 854 or visit Which? Legal to find out more.

Lauren Stacey
Which? Legal – Lawyer FILEx

Tom says:
29 May 2020

Hi Lauren,

Thank you for your advice.

Our wedding date was towards the end of June, so we are entitled to the refund from the venue due to the restrictions on hospitality lasting until 4th July.

Will this still mean that we are entitled to refunds from suppliers under the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943? As some of the government restrictions are being loosened, we are not sure if some of our suppliers are able to work or not. Does this make a difference as to whether we are entitled to full refunds from them?

Many thanks,

Tom

I presume if some suppliers have extended time and money on Tom’s behalf in making arrangements for the event they will be able to make an appropriate charge?

Our wedding venue are refusing to offer refunds for our cancelled wedding that should have been held on the 28th March, they are also refusing to give any further dates for next year until payment in full is made, we only owe the final Paymen t of £3140 but we are not willing to pay this when they may only have a weekday for next year when we have paid for a Saturday. Have reported to the cma, trading standards and seeked advice from the citizens advice and a solicitor. All are certain the wedding venue should not be able to one not refund and two request full payment without advising what dates they have available for 2021. The venue are rude and completely unhelpful and just want our money. It has been a really stressful and upsetting time with having to cancel the wedding anyway without now also being told we cannot have our money back.

Michelle – Since you have a solicitor acting for you I feel you should ask him or her to explore the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 for a remedy. See the Introduction to the following Conversation for more information –
https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/cancelled-holiday-coronavirus-legal-advice/

See also Isla’s comment in this Conversation below and Lauren Stacey’s [Which? Legal] above.

You also might like to review whether you would even consider returning to the venue that is treating you badly – but leave that till after you have settled your dispute.

Isla says:
30 May 2020

Further to malcolm r’s comment:

Contract frustration is a legal principle that basically acknowledges that neither party would have entered into a contract with the benefit of foresight, because the contract would later become impossible to execute due to some unforeseen event or the consequences of that event. In this case, you would not have planned your wedding in June and/or the venue would not have accepted your booking for that date, had you known it would be illegal due to Covid-19.

Such a “supervening event” must not have been anticipated by either party and is not covered by any specific contractual clause. If your contract includes a force majeur event that is specific enough, e.g. “a pandemic”, you could not use frustration to cancel your contracted obligations, even if it makes the contract more onerous or expensive to perform. (Always provided the term is fair.)

If parties to a contract agree, or the court determines, that frustration has occurred, the contractual obligations of both parties cease from that moment, and neither party can hold the other liable for any breach of contract or claim damages. The contract is effectively discharged, as though all obligations had been fulfilled. However … .

Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 only deals with the fair apportionment of sums paid and expenses incurred prior to contract frustration. It does not legislate on whether contract frustration has actually occurred.

It seeks to provide guidance to the courts as to how both parties to the frustrated contract should have sums paid or payable treated, and what expenses already incurred towards meeting their respective obligations can be recovered. Prior to the 1943 Act, one or other parties to a frustrated contract could end up with an unjustified benefit. For instance, sums already paid in the form of a deposit or in full might not be recoverable. Until passing of the Act, the legal position was pretty much: “Stop what you are doing, the contract is at an end.”

Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 provides that:

– Sums already paid (like a deposit) are recoverable.

– Sums payable (like a stage payment or the balance in full) cease to be payable.

As Lauren says: you are entitled to a refund of all sums paid in respect of the contract.

But this is where it can get tricky. Rather like a divorce settlement, the law tries to put both parties in the financial position they would have been in prior to the divorce. We know this is impossible in practice.

If either party has received a “valuable benefit” before the contract is discharged, the cost of providing that benefit can be withheld. So, for instance, if you have had the benefit of extensive wedding planning, food tasting, overnight accommodation, etc., the venue could retain or seek to recover those costs, provided they are reasonable.

Furthermore, either party can include unrecoverable overheads, including work or services already performed and any sums payed or due to third parties, as a result of those contracts being discharged in turn. So, for instance, you might have requested the venue to provide a specific marquee, entertainment, or buy in an exclusive brand of Champagne they would not normally provide as part of the standard wedding contract.

Interestingly, under Section 1.5, the 1943 Act appears to discount any sums separately recoverable under a contract of insurance, unless such insurance was a specific term of the frustrated contract.

My (correct?) interpretation of this is, for instance, if your contract with the venue required you to insure against cancellation due to a pandemic, you could not then recover your deposit from the venue. On the other hand, if you took out wedding insurance of your own accord, a general sum paid out would not need to be taken into account. Similarly, the venue’s own insurance cover for loss of business due to a pandemic would not need to be taken into account.

This is where you would probably need the help of someone like Which? Legal to help mediate in any claim for expenses. If the case ended up going to court, I would expect both parties to have to cover their own costs. After all, contract frustration acknowledges that neither party is at fault. Early and sensible legal advice arbitration could be a lot cheaper in the long run.

Isla says:
1 June 2020

Important update:

A “supervening event” causing frustration of contract must be beyond the contemplation of the parties at the time that the agreement was made.

This means that contracts drawn up at some point beyond 27 December 2019 may be unable to apply the doctrine of frustration as a result of Covid-19, depending on the circumstances. With contracts made after March 2020 it would be almost impossible to claim frustration. (The UK actually entered lock-down on 23 March 2020, but it was clear before then where this was going.)

Note that any new contract, or a variation to a contract now in force – like agreeing to postpone the date of a wedding reception or holiday booking – would be done in the full knowledge that Covid-19 could lead to further restrictions, possibly making the contract impossible to perform, but no longer frustrated. Both parties need to protect themselves from legal action for breach of contract, as frustration can no longer be used in defense.

A very thorough reply, Isla. Hope you continue to contribute to Convos. 🙂

I echo Malcolm’s comment.

I suppose the argument – that nobody here thought much before February 2020 that this virus was going to affect us – cuts no ice in the courts. When did the Foreign & Commonwealth Office wake up to it? That might have a bearing on things.

Isla says:
1 June 2020

Thank you Malcolm and John!

The World Health Organisation made it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020. That is probably more significant than an FCO declaration, as FCO advisories relate purely to foreign travel restrictions outside of the UK for situations that are ongoing.

I’m perhaps being over-generous in suggesting March 2020 as a cut-off date. But who knows? It would be for the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. The bar is deliberately set high. Just don’t waste time claiming contract frustration for a wedding or holiday booked in March 2020 that can’t go ahead due to Covid-19 or any other pandemic. We now know it can and does happen in the 21st Century.

Interestingly, if either party could be shown to have knowledge or just contemplated a “supervening event”, and they chose not to cover that risk in a force majeur term, they could not use the doctrine of frustration to avoid a claim for breach of contract.

Although air travel is covered by very specific regulations, it is commonly acknowledged in public documents (e.g. shareholder reports – as others have pointed out on this forum) that airlines are all too aware of the risks that a pandemic could pose to their operations. Unless there are very specific clauses in their contracts covering such an event, they could not use frustration as a defense.

Anyone here book with Ryanair Rooms? Do their T&C’s specifically cover cancellation due to pandemics?

Thank you Isla.

I would expect venues for weddings and other such important events for Summer 2020, if they required elaborate preparations, to have been booked well before 27 December 2019, in which I case I deduce from your Update above that frustration of the contract could be invoked.

For events booked between 27 December and 31 January it could be difficult to plead frustration perhaps – but worth a try in my opinion for the cost of a stamp.

After January 2020 I think a frustration claim would be dismissed for the reasons you have shown, although it is not inconceivable that neither venues nor their clients were really aware [even if you think they ought to have been] that a national lockdown was coming that would make it impossible for guests to attend the function and just as difficult for the venue to provide it.

That would make it a question of negotiation between the client and the venue as to what costs have been incurred and what costs have been avoided; unfortunately some of the brides who have consulted this site have been given a complete brush-off by their venue and merely offered a new booking at a future date [subject to availability but with no commitment] and at the higher price applicable at the time.

I rang a family member who is planning to get married in Scotland in late October. Apart from daily FaceTime chats she has not seen her future husband since before the lockdown since they have been working a hundred miles apart. They are hoping for the best but planning for the worst and the reception if it goes ahead may be a very select affair.

My niece and her fiancé were due to get married on an island near Dubrovnik this summer [to which I protested because many of the family would not have been able to attend] but they have had to rethink their plans now. Apparently they wanted it to be a very restricted affair – which it surely would have been. I was hoping we might go because we love Croatia and would have taken an extended holiday. At least the couple live together so are not experiencing the longeurs of separation. I have suggested Walton-on-the-Naze as an alternative. Perhaps not as elite as the Dalmatian coast but you can get there on the train and the pier is fun for all the family.

A tiny virus is going to change so many people’s lives.

Maybe the penchant for arranging stag dos and hen parties in Ryanair destinations will be diminished by the onset of austerity? Plenty of places in the UK where people can enjoy themselves.

Getting married in the UK – in moderate style – can be very expensive, whereas going abroad cam make financial sense – at least for the main participants. One son did want a memorable wedding and they had saved hard; they already had life’s essentials so it was disposable savings. It was cheaper to hire a chateau in Normandy for a long weekend, travelling via the tunnel, than to hire a decent venue on the UK; and a nice short holiday for the guests.

My suggestion of hiring the village hall, drinks from the Wine Society and eats from M&S and Waitrose was not too well received.

At least you know what it will be like when you get the food and drinks from suppliers whose products you know. I have been to any number of functions in so-say good hotels and come to the conclusion that they really don’t have a clue, can’t cook, and serve rubbish wine.

Weddings here don’t have to be very expensive unless you let a wedding planner loose on the proceedings.

You can spend as little as you like. Mine was in a registry office and back to the (now) in-laws for the reception. We were very happy with that.

Others use it as a once (hopefully) in a lifetime event they want to be very memorable for both them and their friends and family, along with a honeymoon to exotic places. May be their last opportunity to indulge themselves for a good few years if they plan starting a family.

One of the difficulties with trying to help readers with their enquiries over event cancellations is that we never get to see the actual contractual terms and conditions.

There have been questions about weddings, conferences, golfing weekends, holiday cottage bookings, and so on, many organised by hotels and small companies that might not have looked at their standard contracts for some time. Many of their clients and customers might not have paid much attention to the terms and conditions in any case because they were in small print, couched in legal verbiage, badly drafted, or just presented as an afterthought [but nevertheless valid].

In some cases, firms have tried to introduce more restrictive terms after the contract was entered into. Attempts have been made to invoke force majeure without an existing clause enabling it, and to misinterpret the meaning of ‘non-refundable booking’ in the provider’s favour.

This emergency has demonstrated the need (a) for all service providers to revisit their contracts and make them fit for purpose if they wish to rely on them against consumers’ interests, and (b) for people making bookings to check the paperwork very carefully before entering into a commitment to avoid becoming trapped in the event of an unforeseen eventuality that leads to forfeiture of payments made on account.

We also rarely see the full picture or get all the pieces of the jigsaw on this side of the table so have to fill in the missing bits as best we can. I hope people realise that we can give opinions but never a definitive answer.

Soph says:
15 June 2020

We were supposed to get married on 25 April this year but our wedding has been postponed. Our wedding band were not available to play on our new wedding date, but they are refusing to refund us. There is a clause in our contract as follows
“Artist shall be excused from their obligations hereunder in the event of proven sickness, accident, riot, strike, epidemic, act of God or any other legitimate condition or occurrence beyond their respective control. In the event of Artist being unable to perform due to proven sickness, accident, riot, strike, epidemic, act of God or any other legitimate condition or occurrence beyond their respective control, where possible, Artist’s management reserve the right to and will make every reasonable effort to provide an alternative artist of equal or superior quality and equal or higher retail value. In the event that management are unable to find alternative entertainment and Artist has to cancel, the Purchaser will be entitled to a refund of all payments made to Artist but no other costs. In the event of cancellation by the Purchaser, Purchaser will be liable for the full fee unless written notice cancellation is given by Royal Mail recorded delivery 120 days prior to the performance. All payments are non refundable“.
Has the contract been frustrated? Are we due a full refund? What can we do now as the band is no longer responding to our emails? Thanks

R Sheldon says:
2 July 2020

I don’t know if you can answer this as I am writing as a venue rather than a consumer. We have now postponed 28 weddings free of charge and given couples a large choice of dates and they are all very happy – except one. We have offered this couple 18 months to choose a new date with no extra charge. They had a new date pencilled in but wanted to claim on their insurance. We wrote to them telling them the ceremonies office had contacted us to say they could not carry out any ceremonies. The couple then cancelled their wedding. They do not want a new date but also want all their money back (they had paid in full having waited until a week before their wedding day to cancel). They will not speak to us and threatened legal action if we did not repay the monies in full. We have had lots of emails going back and forth. We have said we will need to retain some money to cover irrecoverable costs and they want a breakdown. We would like to find a solution but they will not speak to us and have dug their heels in. Saying that, we do not want to refund them all the money as we have had to maintain the building, pay rent, wages, gardening etc. We do not do any catering as we are a dry hire venue but the venue is fully decorated so that is all included. Any advice would be really welcome. Many thanks

Maybe someone will give you some real legal advice here but . . . .

Your post is slightly unbelievable given the circumstances of current times.

As no weddings could take place over the last few months, you should have done the cancelling and any decent respectable business would have offered a full refund only deducting money for extras like place names that had already been purchased. Instead you wait for the couples to do the cancelling so they are the losers? No doubt you have a non-refundable clause in your contract with these couples.

Until their wedding day, you have supplied these couples with absolutely nothing.

I don’t know the cost of hiring your venue, but when it is probably in the region of £5,000-£20,000, you will hold a rather substantial deposit and seem to require payment in full well before the date, so you have these unfortunate couples over a barrel.

Did you give the other postponed ‘happy couples’ a choice of a refund or an alternate date? If they paid you in advance did they have a choice? Just because they chose you for their special day on this occasion does not mean your venue will fit their requirements next time?

Have you provided anything specifically for the couple that has cost you money you cannot be refunded for, or use at another wedding, i.e. seating names.? If so, deduct the cost, do the decent thing and give them a full refund.

They are not responsible for paying your outgoings.

I do not understand what “irrecoverable costs” a dry-hire venue could have incurred that are specific to a particular wedding so far ahead. Furthermore, the standard of decoration should not be deteriorating if the venue is effectively out of use so I cannot see why that should be a particular issue.

According to the media, there is a big pent-up demand for wedding receptions when the show gets back on the road and the restrictions on social gatherings are removed. I doubt there will be any difficulty in selling the vacant slot.

A lot of commercial operations are having to cope with major difficulties in order comply with government orders and will have a far worse time of it afterwards than a wedding venue which, as Alfa says, has a pocketful of deposits and a list of prospective customers. Despite the success of Zoom, there is no on-line alternative to a wedding reception.

It is, presumably, not couples who cancel their weddings but venues that can no longer offer them due to COVID-19 regulations. I would have thought that any moneys paid for an event that can no longer be fulfilled should be refunded, less the cost of any specific items already purchased on the couple’s instructions. It is not individuals’ responsibility to contribute to the general running costs of the venue; that is a business risk.

Even if named place cards had been purchased for the cancelled wedding, they should be handed over to the client for their use in due course.

Jordan says:
14 August 2020

Hi, our wedding was booked for this month, but due to the restrictions in place we had no choice but to cancel, the venue is saying that we have to rebook for next year but due to our situation now regarding lifestyle changes we are unable to commit. The venue have told us that we cannot have our substantial deposit back!

For all the couples out there who have had their plans thrown in the air – The Open University and the University of Exeter are doing research into how the pandemic has impacted on weddings.

The survey only takes 5 minutes and the research will be used to form policy recommendations to support couples and the wedding industry.

https://openbusinessschool.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_819Lqy0iiZb06Gx

Just looking for some advice if anyone is able to give it. We had to cancel our wedding due to COVID-19 and have gotten most of our deposits back due to contract clauses. The pastor we booked is not agreeing to issue us our deposit back as his contract states it’s non refundable. However, there are no cancellation/force majeure policies listed on the contract, or much of any other policy, for that matter. Am I still entitled to get my deposit back or consider it a loss? Thanks for any help in advance.

My feeling is that if the pastor is effectively prevented by government regulations from performing a wedding then he has no right to retain the deposit. The contract has been frustrated – he cannot solemnize the marriage and therefore you and your fiancé cannot achieve holy matrimony, so both parties should be released from the contract and all costs not actually incurred should be refunded.

The term “non-refundable” is usually taken to mean that if the customer changes their mind or is otherwise engaged there is no return of a deposit. That is not the case in your situation.

Rachel says:
29 August 2020

We have been refused our claim, refused our appeal and now waiting for the financial ombudsman to look into it, we have been given a 4 month timeframe for them to even look at our complaint.

Our venue is asking for 50% more on top of what we have already paid (over £12,000) to hold it next summer. They won’t postpone it for free unless we book it before 31st March 2020.

What are our rights to a full refund, they said we can only have half back?