Our COVID-19 cancellation policy…

By November 5, 2020November 7th, 2020announcement

our COVID-19 cancellation policy

We’re all having to get used to living in a global pandemic.  Weddings have been amongst the events most affected by the virus and the ever changing Govt rules.

First all weddings of any size were cancelled.  Then weddings were back on but restricted to 30 guests.  Then that was reduced to 15 guests.  And now, we’re back to weddings of any size being cancelled again.   It’s so tough on our couples, some of whom have now had their weddings cancelled 3 times.  They just want to get married.  And they can’t.  Personally I’m surprised the Govt has banned all weddings again.   Ban all guests if necessary but to ban all weddings?  Cancel this hugely important rite of passage?  We’re keeping our fingers crossed this latest change is only going to be around for a month and we’ll be back to weddings from 2nd December.  I can’t say I agree with the Govt policy this time but we all have to abide by it. And a COVID-19 cancellation policy has become something all wedding venues have needed to get their heads round.  And bride tribes like this sadly seem a long way off right now…

cancellation due to COVID-19

Naturally couples who’ve had their wedding  cancelled are asking questions about what COVID cancellation policies a wedding venue has.

During the first lock down I was hearing some terrible stories about how couples were finding some wedding venues un-cooperative.  How they struggled to get information from their venue about whether their wedding was going to take place at all.  Some wedding venues were insisting it was up to the couple to cancel, some venues were refusing to cancel because they thought that meant they’d have to give a refund.

weddings insurance and COVID-19

Some couples had weddings insurance which required a venue to cancel a wedding before they could claim on their policy.  I heard stories about venues refusing to refund deposits and other payments even when weddings were actually cancelled – it was a hot mess.

Even those couples who’d taken out weddings insurance weren’t guaranteed a refund of any lost money when their wedding was cancelled.  We always recommend taking out weddings insurance when you book your wedding because you never know what might happen and it’s so cheap to take out that we think it’s money well spent for peace of mind.   Sure there are things not covered by weddings insurance (change of mind being the big one!) but if one of your suppliers goes bust, you don’t have to worry about getting your money back if you’ve got insurance.

But…as we started to learn, insurance companies pushed back against claims for cancelled weddings costs due to Coronavirus.  Many (if not most) refused to pay out, claiming policies couldn’t be expected to cover something that hadn’t been thought of when the policy was taken out.

So if you had an insurance policy that wasn’t paying out or you didn’t have insurance – where did that leave you when it came to your wedding being cancelled?   A lot of venues were refusing to refund deposits.   I heard of stand offs between venues and couples, with both refusing to blink first and cancel.  Venues saying that if couples cancelled, they weren’t entitled to their money back because it was their choice.  Couples refusing to cancel, knowing the venue couldn’t put on the wedding so they were waiting for the venue to cancel so they could get a refund.  Stress all round.

2020 the year of the pivot

I have a lot of sympathy for wedding venues losing a whole season’s income, but that’s one of the perils of being in business.  Sometimes things come from left field and you have to roll with the punches – or ‘pivot’ as the new biz-jargon has it. (‘Pivot-a-bitch’ as my girl Shavonda of @sgardnerstyle Insta fame puts it.)  Very quickly we had to wrap our heads round the fact that our entire income for the summer of 2020 was going to be lost.  A lot of biz’s in different sectors pivoted the heck outta the situation.  Setting up online shops, doing deliveries, take outs, online classes – I love how innovative so many business owners were in the situation.

But…you can’t do weddings online.  It’s not a thing.  Maybe it should be but right now, it’s not a thing.  We are exclusively a wedding venue, we don’t have an on site restaurant or bar, we’re not open to the public.  So a shut down for us was a total shut down.  Don’t get me wrong, I know we’re super lucky that the lovely S has a job outside the venue.  And being a doctor, he wasn’t at risk of losing that job as a lot of people have been over the last 7 months.  We’re lucky.

our COVID-19 cancellation policy

We had to figure out what our COVID-19 cancellation policy was going to be for our couples.  We tried to work out what would be most helpful.  It soon became clear couples had different considerations and there wasn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.  We would need to offer as many different options as we could.

a new date

We decided that all couples who wanted to postpone, could do so.   Free of charge.  I heard of venues charging a fee for postponing a wedding date, even though the original date couldn’t go ahead.   Some venues would postpone but said couples had to pay more because the price for the next season had gone up.

Some venues even said couples had to pay for the wedding in full up front before they could get a new date.  There are some real horror stories out there.   At least we learned from them what not to do and what to get clear on with our own couples.  There’s no fee to change the date if you need to postpone and even if the price goes up for the following year, you get the price you originally signed up to when you booked.

Some of our couples were already paid up with us either partly or in full because their wedding date was only a few months away.  We asked all those couples to think about whether they were happy to leave the money with us or whether they needed it back if their wedding was postponed for a year.  I always say it but we have the best couples.  Everyone who was paid up (every.single. couple) said they were happy to leave the money paid.  And so many couples who weren’t paid up were happy to pay on their original payment dates even though their wedding date was now postponed for a year or more.  We have great relationships with our couples – they were aware that we were taking a big hit and wanted to take some of the load from us.  I’ll never forget that and we truly appreciate each and every one of our couples who were able to do that.

you can cancel

And for anyone who needs to cancel their wedding, rather than postpone, you get a full refund of all money paid.   That includes your deposit and any instalments of your hire fee.  If you’ve paid all the hire fee, a full refund of that too.

Finding new dates for everyone was tricky but we did it.   Out of 70+ weddings booked for 2020, we had only 2 cancellations.  They were both big weddings and in both cases, both couples had both lost their jobs so financially they needed to get a refund.  Which they got.  In full.

Lucy Turnball Photography

what’s the law on refunds?

Wedding venues holding on to deposits and wedding payments became such an issue that the Govt was forced to issue guidance in September.  You can read that guidance here.

The bottom line from the Govt is this:

“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.”

So that’s the law.  If your wedding is cancelled due to COVID you’re entitled to a refund.   This guidance applied to all weddings cancelled up to the end of September 2020.  The Govt hasn’t updated its refund guidance on COVID-19 cancellation policies, but the principle is the same, if it’s reasonable to think the wedding needs to be cancelled, you’re entitled to a refund.

This applies not just to wedding venues but other wedding suppliers too, photographers, florists, cake makers etc.

Of course being legally entitled to a refund and getting a refund are two different things. Wedding venues and suppliers use deposits and other advance payments to live on.  They’re entitled to do that, it’s not against any rules.  It’s not like tenancy deposits which by law have to be kept in separate accounts to protect tenants.  There are no rules like that for weddings.

So if your wedding venue/supplier doesn’t have the money to refund you – what do you do then?  I’ve got a post coming up shortly about what you should look out for so this doesn’t happen to you – look out for that post soon.

Lucy Turnball Photography

guest reductions

Back to our COVID-19 cancellation policy…We decided that there would be last minute refund for guest reductions.   You get a guaranteed full refund for any guest change up to a week before the wedding.  If there’s a guest change with less than a week to go, you’ll get a partial guest charge refund if the caterers have bought food and/or the cake maker has already made your wedding cake.  If they haven’t started on your food/cake, you’ll get a full refund even if you reduce guest numbers very last minute.

We’ve had some last minute changes due to local lock downs or elderly guests wanting to leave the decision to the last minute and we were happy to work with that.  It made things less stressful for our couples knowing that they would still get a refund for last minute changes.

Any circumstances where we won’t give a refund?  If you get a new date for your cancelled wedding but you later change your mind about getting married.   We don’t usually give refunds for changes of mind.  But we consider every case on its merits.  What does that mean?  We look at things like what’s the reason for the cancellation and how far ahead you’re cancelling.  If we re-let the date easily, we often do a partial refund.  If we can’t re-let the date we’re legally entitled to keep the deposit to compensate us for our lost profit.

Clare Kinchin Photography

downsizing

As part of our COVID cancellation policy, we let couples downsize from a big Saturday wedding down to a MMW or elopement or down from a MMW to an elopement.  We issue a new contract, move your deposit over and refund any difference in the price.  With the Govt changes to guest numbers, couples have had to adjust, sometimes with very little notice so we’ve been as flexible as possible.

ceremonySo that’s our COVID cancellation policy.  To summarise:

  • if the COVID rules change, you’ll have the chance to wait and see if you want to
  • you can postpone your wedding to a date we’ve got that suits you whether that’s a few months, a year later or more than a year later
  • there’s no charge for getting a new date, we’ll move your full deposit over to your new date
  • you can downsize the type of wedding you’ve booked and we’ll refund any price difference
  • you can reduce your guest numbers and be guaranteed a full guest charge refund up to a week before the wedding.  You get a partial guest charge refund if there’s less than a week to go and food has already been bought/made
  • if you don’t want to postpone your wedding but you need to cancel, you’ll get a full refund of your deposit and any pre-payments you’ve made

I hope that run through our COVID-19 cancellation policy has been helpful.  Anything I’ve missed out, lemme know.  Just drop me a line to nicola@lowergrenofen.co.uk

If you need any of our brochures you can download whichever brochure you need.

For summer Saturday weddings, click here.

For MMW weddings, click here.

For elopement weddings, click here.