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Wedding firms warned over 'unfair' coronavirus refund policies

Several wedding firms have been warned by the competition watchdog after concerns that couples still aren't receiving fair refunds for weddings which couldn't go ahead during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found couples who had booked weddings with the firms in question said they were misled about the level of refund they were entitled to when their plans were disrupted by coronavirus, or were told they could rebook but only at a higher price. 

The CMA says these firms may have broken consumer law, and it has now written to them telling them to review their practices and offer customers fair refunds, or face enforcement action. It hasn't named the firms in question though, or confirmed how many providers it's written to – saying only that "several" have received warnings.

Earlier in the autumn, the CMA secured refunds for customers of Bijou Weddings Group – but it's since received fresh complaints about other wedding providers.

See our What are your rights to a refund if you need to cancel or change a wedding? guide for more info about what you can do if your big day's been affected by the pandemic.

What are my rights if my wedding has to be cancelled?

The CMA has already set out its views on how wedding providers should treat customers whose celebrations are disrupted by coronavirus – it says that if a wedding has to be cancelled because it would be in breach of lockdown laws, the couple should be entitled to a refund.

And after the most recent batch of complaints it received, the CMA has also said that:

  • Wedding providers shouldn't make deductions from a customer's refund unless it's for costs already incurred directly for the wedding in question. The wedding provider needs to be able to prove this, and must provide a breakdown of these costs.

    The CMA says that it wouldn't expect there to be any deductions for a contract that was only to hire a wedding venue, though it hasn't provided "benchmarks" for refunds and says each case must be assessed individually.

  • Wedding providers shouldn't unreasonably delay or refuse to pay refunds where customers are owed money back.

  • Couples shouldn't be charged extra if they agree to reschedule their wedding to a comparable date and service, rather than asking for a refund.

The competition watchdog has said all wedding firms should check their cancellation and refund policies and make changes if necessary.

However, while this is good news for consumers, it's worth noting that – ultimately – only a court can decide how consumer law applies in each case. The CMA's views can provide guidance on what your rights are, though.

What does the competition watchdog say?

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: "It's not right that couples are facing an uphill battle over costs for weddings which couldn't go ahead due to the pandemic. We know that businesses are continuing to face the impact of coronavirus, but consumers cannot be expected to lose out as a result.

"Many couples will be entitled to a full refund, but in the cases where they are not, we are absolutely clear there is no 'one size fits all' approach to retaining costs. Any proposed deduction should only cover costs already incurred in relation to the particular wedding in question, and those costs should be proven by the firm and clearly broken down.

"All wedding firms need to take note of the CMA's action in this area and provide refunds where they are due, without unnecessary delay. Those who refuse to do so risk enforcement action."

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