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 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/covid-19-cma-to-investigate-cancellation-policy-concerns
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: [email protected] or send your complaint / enquiry to: www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/contact-consumerline-make-complaint-or-ask-advice