UPDATE: 3 OCTOBER 2020
Please be aware this blog has been updated, see important new information on numbers allowed at a wedding at the end of the blog
The Government has introduced new tougher restrictions this week as part of its fight to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the restrictions imposed has a catastrophic effect on weddings, as the limit of people allowed to attend a wedding has been further reduced.
But, as I informed my LBC listeners last night, the actual position is far worse than anyone has been told and, to my amazement, NO ONE seems to be aware of this, well, not until I explained it last night.
If you have a wedding coming up, or if you are about to book a wedding, here is the key information that you need to know:
The current position (as at 26th September 2020), is that weddings are restricted to the following numbers of people:
- 30 in England
- 30 in Wales
- 20 in Scotland
- 10 in Northern Ireland
From Monday 28th September, the limit in England is being slashed in half to 15.
The sting in the tail
Both Government and the widespread media have simply reported that “weddings are restricted to 30 (15 from Monday) people”. This has been interpreted by most people as meaning that you can only ‘invite’ 15 people. As a consequence, those who already have a wedding booked, and who accepted that they could only have 30 people in attendance, have been frantically drawing up their list of 15 guests to de-invite. But this is not the correct position.
The rule/law is that you can only have a maximum of 15 people at the ceremony and reception, and here’s the sting in the tail – this includes the bride and groom and any third party suppliers (i.e. anyone you hire in, such as a DJ, photographer, or entertainer); Staff employed by the venue are not included in that number. So, the reality is, your actual guest list will be far smaller than 15, and will probably account for maybe 5 to 8 guests.
The Government guidance on this whole subject remains slightly unclear as it states that where the word ‘must’ is used in the guidance, it means that it is a ‘legal’ requirement, and in all other circumstances it is not a legal requirement, but strong advice. However, you should not go against this advice for health and safety reasons and for insurance purposes, as this is precisely the type of issue that could invalidate your policy.
Other issues to consider
Wedding venues also have a legal obligation to be ‘Covid safe’ and to implement all guidelines set out by Government. There will inevitably be some venues where this is simply not possible and, in these circumstances, the venue will have a legal obligation to cancel for this reason.
The guideline is extensive and includes:
- During all activities linked to the reception or celebration, all parties, especially people from separate households/bubbles, should adhere to social distancing guidelines; 2 metres or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable). Venues and guest numbers should be chosen to ensure 2 metre spacing is possible for the main sections of the celebrations.
- Wherever possible, attendees should remain seated to support social distancing safety measures. They should be reminded at key points during the event to maintain social distancing, and to avoid physical contact with individuals from different households.
- Attendees and staff are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering where social distancing may be difficult, and where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet.
- Venue managers should provide hand sanitiser at convenient points throughout the venue and encourage attendees to use it.
- Attendees, including children, should frequently throughout the day wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap, or use hand sanitiser, ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered.
- Any shared facilities for children, such as play corners, soft furnishings, soft toys, and toys which are difficult to clean, should be removed or closed.
- Venue managers should record the names and contact details of all persons visiting the venues and keep a written record for at least 21 days
Food and drink:
- Wherever possible staff should serve all food and drinks to minimise customer self-service and guests should remain seated.
- Seating arrangements should follow social distancing guidance, meaning social distancing is maintained between different households (including any support bubbles).
- Dancing should not be permitted due to the increased risk of transmission. and dancefloors may be re-purposed for additional customer seating or other relevant purposes, ensuring this is in line with the social distancing guidelines.
- All venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other at any point in the proceedings. This includes – but is not limited to – refraining from playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult, and avoiding activities such as communal singing or chanting – so karaoke is a no!
- Activities which involve objects being thrown (such as confetti or bouquet toss), or passed from person to person, should be avoided to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
- Speeches should be undertaken outside, or in well ventilated areas wherever possible.
Can I cancel my wedding?
The new restrictions apply to both you and the venue. This means if you have an agreement with a wedding venue for more than 15 people to be in attendance at your ceremony and/or reception (which will almost certainly be the case in most circumstances), the venue will no longer be able to honour this agreement. The venue will also not be able to honour the agreement if it cannot perform all the requirements listed in the guidelines above. The legal effect of this will be that you can tear the contract up and get your money back. In law, we call this ‘frustration’ as the contract has been frustrated because the terms (in this case accommodating more than 15 guests, and making the venue safe), cannot legally be honoured.
Can I reduce the price of my wedding?
If you have a wedding booked and still wish to proceed, regardless of the new limitations, my view is that you will be able to ask for a reduction of the cost in most circumstances. As the venue will not be providing precisely what it promised to do in the contract, you will be entitled to a reasonable and fair reduction in the costs. You should ask the venue to provide you with an itemised bill so that you can clearly see what items you have paid for, and which you will now not receive.
What if the venue refuses a refund?
Firstly, remind them that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has clearly expressed its view that wedding venues should be refunding consumers in situations where it cannot provide the wedding envisaged. The CMA says:
“Where a wedding cannot (or could not) go ahead on the date agreed without the parties breaching the lockdown laws, the CMA considers that this contract is likely to come to an end (in legal terms, it is said to have been “frustrated”.
In such circumstances, the consumer will be entitled to a refund, where they have already paid money, and will no longer be liable to make any further payments”
Following the advice I previously publicly provided, the CMA has also said:
“Where lockdown laws prevent or prevented a wedding from going ahead on the agreed date, the starting point under the law is that the consumer should be offered a full refund (see section 1(2) of the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943).
Consumers would be entitled to refunds even where they have paid what the business says are ‘non-refundable’ deposits or other advance payments.
The wedding business may, however, be able to withhold certain limited amounts relating to expenses it has already incurred in respect of the wedding.”
If the venue still refuses, you can either: i) make a section 75 claim if you paid on your credit card; or ii) lodge a claim in the small claims court,
I should say that we want to see as many businesses and industries as possible survive the pandemic. If you are content to postpone an already booked wedding, it would naturally be good to do so. However, if you do this, make sure you consider whether you would be protected if the venue were to go bust before your new date. You can cover this with an insurance policy, or by paying on your credit card, which will give you the protection of section 75.
Prior to 26th September, the Government Guidance document stated as follows in relation to the maximum number of people allowed to attend a wedding:
“This is the advised maximum number for all attendees at the event, including the couple and guests. It also includes any third-party suppliers, such as photographers or security. It does not include staff employed by the venue or third-party catering staff”
On 26th September (the day after my LBC radio show), Government amended the Guidance:
Under this updated Guidance the rule on numbers is now:
“This is the maximum number for all attendees at the event, including the couple and guests. Anyone working is not included as part of the legal limit.”
This is great news and well done to Government for being so responsive to this important matter.