The cancellation of a long planned for wedding day is just one of the consequences of the current lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The Department for the Economy’s free consumer advice service, Consumerline, has been receiving complaints from disappointed couples who have seen their big day dreams dashed, only to encounter further unhappiness when dealing with some reception venues. Complaints have included a refusal to provide refunds, pressuring consumers into accepting vouchers or rescheduling instead of giving refunds and charging high administration or cancellation fees.
In one example, Consumerline received a call from a couple who were refused a refund, were told they would have to pay cancellation charges and were referred to terms and conditions which had changed since they had made their original booking.
Other complaints have referred to venues withholding deposits, insisting the balance be paid before any new date has been agreed and offering weekday dates when the reception was booked for a Saturday.
The UK’s primary government authority dealing with competition and consumer matters, the Competition and Market’s Authority (CMA), has issued guidance on what it expects to happen when contracts are cancelled as a result of measures taken to deal with coronavirus. The guidance can be found at the COVID-19: CMA to investigate cancellation policy concerns page of the GOV.UK website.
A spokesperson for the Trading Standards Service (TSS) said: “We appreciate the difficulties at this time faced by all these businesses, however, consumers’ rights have not changed during the coronavirus pandemic. The costs associated with a wedding reception and everything else that goes with it are substantial and it is important that consumers continue to receive the protection afforded by the law.
“While it is the case that a couple can be offered a re-booking or a voucher, they should not be cajoled into accepting these if a refund is their preferred option. Also, any restrictions that may apply to vouchers or re-bookings must be fair and drawn to the attention of consumers. Any changes to terms and conditions are also subject to the fairness requirement. The same laws apply to other associated services which have had to be cancelled, for example photographers, catering and entertainment.
“Trading Standards has been working with a number of reception venues pointing out the law in this area. It is hoped this will lead to an improvement in how these venues deal with their customers when wedding receptions have had to be cancelled. In the worst cases the TSS may take enforcement action.”
Anyone who has encountered problems arising from cancelled wedding receptions and requires advice should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or send your complaint / enquiry to the Contact Consumerline to make a complaint or ask for advice page on nidirect.
Notes to editors:
- The CMA guidance is based on the law on consumers’ rights and unfair contract terms contained in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and would apply equally to the cancellation of wedding receptions Part 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies to unfair terms in consumer contracts, i.e. contracts concluded between a trader and a consumer. The Act defines unfairness and also provides a list of terms which are either considered to be unfair in all circumstances (blacklisted) or which may be presumed to be unfair (the grey list).
- Ultimately, only a court can decide if a term of a contract is unfair. A consumer is not bound by a term which is considered to be unfair. The Trading Standards Service is one of the regulatory bodies which can seek to take injunctive action through the courts to prevent the use of terms it considers may be unfair.
- The CMA has identified cancelled wedding events as one of three areas they are particularly concerned about and have provided a form on their website which consumers can use to tell them about their own particular experiences – this form can be found on the Report a business behaving unfairly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak page of the GOV.UK website.
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