What To Do If You Have A Wedding Scheduled During The Coronavirus Outbreak

Katie O'Malley
Photo credit: Johner Images - Getty Images

From ELLE

We will be updating this piece as more information comes in.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has thrown into question several, if not all, aspects of daily life as we know it.

Naturally, the overall threat that the virus poses to the public’s health is of great concern, as is the future of small businesses, wages, rent and mortgage payments, food and resources and our ability to travel.

With wedding season fast approaching, many couples will also be questioning whether their upcoming nuptials will be able to go ahead as planned, or whether they will be forced to postpone or even cancel their big day.

In recent days, several couples have taken to social media to detail the latest news on their upcoming weddings and Princess Beatrice and her fiancé Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi just announced that they have cancelled their Buckingham Palace wedding reception, which was scheduled to take place in May. Meanwhile, the US government has urged all Americans to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people and the UK prime minister Boris Johnson has warned the public to keep at least two metres apart.

However, like with all industries and commitments at this time, one hopes there will be leeway when it comes to the financial obligations, postponement of events and negotiating contracts given the unprecedented situation.

On Tuesday March 17, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a package of financial measures to help the UK economy during this time, that includes £330bn in loans, £20bn in other aid, a business rates holiday, and grants for retailers and pubs. He described the current climate as an ‘economic emergency’.

‘Like in most industries it’s a challenging time for us all,’ says wedding photographer Oliver Holder. ‘Fortunately, the wedding industry is one of the most buoyant, we just need to stick together and stay calm!’

We spoke to several experts in the wedding and legal industry to find out practical advice for couples facing uncertainty with their upcoming weddings.

What has the government said about attending mass gatherings during the Covid-19 outbreak?

Last month, the UK prime minister advised the public to work from home and avoid pubs, clubs and theatres where possible, as part of a range of stringent new measures to reduce mass gatherings.

During a press briefing on Monday March 16, Boris Johnson said everyone in the UK should avoid ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus. He outlined that ‘drastic action’ was needed in the UK as it approaches ‘the fact growth part of the upward curve’ in the number of cases.

Photo credit: Victor Dyomin - Getty Images

According to the government’s advice, if you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, you should stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. If you live with others and one of them presents symptoms, then all dwellers must not leave the house for 14 days (the 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill).

On Sunday March 22, Johnson then went on to explain what the government means by 'social distancing' after the public appeared to misunderstand the need to stop face-to-face social contact as much as possible.

'Don't think fresh air in itself automatically provides some immunity,' Mr Johnson said, adding that even if individuals think they are invulnerable, 'there are plenty of people you could infect.

'Take this advice seriously, follow it, because it's absolutely crucial.

'My message is you've got to do this in line with the advice, you've got to follow the social distancing rule - keep 2m apart.'

Find out more information here.

Does a wedding come under the term ‘mass gathering’?

In recent weeks events such as Glastonbury Festival, the Grand National and the Euro 2020 have been postponed or cancelled.

As a result of Johnson's latest comments regarding social interactions in person, it is unsurprising that the wedding industry will be affected by the government’s advice.

Wedding photographer Emma-Jane Lewis told us that she, and many photographers, are taking the current situation on a case-by-case basis.

‘As a lot of photographers I am speaking with in the industry are trying to go ahead as normal like myself as best as we can while still going on government advice,’ she says.

‘Unfortunately, it is a very uncertain time, both for wedding couples who have invested months of planning and financial input as well as the wedding and events industry which are seeing restriction imposed.

‘It means a lack of financial support from the government as freelancers, meaning we are feeling very isolated at this time without support.’

What does wedding insurance cover you for?

As is the case with most insurance you take out, be it for a car, property or holiday, insurance cover protects you from any unforeseen issues that might arise that could have financial implications.

When it comes to a couple’s big day, MoneySavingExpert.com explains that wedding insurance ‘covers a problem with the venue or a supplier, or a key wedding party member falling ill. It does not cover a change of heart’.

In most cases, depending on the type of cover a couple takes out, a wedding will be covered by insurance policies for the following:

  • If a venue goes busts or cancels on you
  • A supplier lets you down
  • You’re forced to cancel because key guest can’t attend due to poor health
  • Personal liability and legal expenses
  • Lost, stolen or damaged goods

Will wedding insurance cover you for Covid-19?

It is currently a grey area if an insurance policy will cover a wedding affected by Covid-19.

‘It will all depend what your wedding insurance specifically covers and the circumstances we’re now facing,’ explains Gary Rycroft, the chair of the Law Society’s digital assets working group and a consumer law expert.

Last month, several companies including John Lewis Finance, Debenhams and Wedding Plan Insurance released statements on their websites informing customers that they are unable to accept any new applications for wedding insurance due to the outbreak.

‘We have currently suspended new applications for wedding insurance while we assess the impact of travel and public health advice around coronavirus,’ reads the John Lewis Finance website.

‘If you are an existing customer, we can assure you that your policy remains in place and unchanged.’

According to Rycroft, the government’s advice to reduce social contact, previously listing locations such as pubs, clubs and theatres, was ‘not helpful wording from a legal point of view’.

The government initially told people to avoid these places, prior to instructing their closure.

‘Be warned that insurance companies might use this vague nuance and argue that despite the government’s suggestions to avoid the aforementioned public spaces, weddings didn't come under its recommended places to avoid.

Rycroft envisaged that there could be pressure on the government to be more definitive about what constitutes a ‘large gathering’ in the weeks to come.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding social distancing, the Church of England's archbishops wrote to clergy in support of the measures requiring that churches must now close both for private worship and public services.

'Sadly, there can be no weddings in church buildings until further notice,' a statement on the organisation's website reads.

The Methodist church and the chief rabbi has also since suspended services.

For any couple in doubt of their cover or their rights in the lead up to their wedding, the lawyer advises them to take legal advice about their specific circumstances such as contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau here.

‘We need to look at every case in isolation,’ he assures coupes. ‘Every case turns on its own facts.’

For anyone due to marry abroad or has a honeymoon booked in the coming months, they are advised to check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to look into whether it has been deemed safe for them to still go to the country they were planning on travelling to.

Will you be covered if you decide to cancel a wedding?

When you make travel arrangements, if you want to cancel your flights or hotel and it’s your decision – not an external party’s – you will not be covered financially. Rycroft says the same measures will usually be applied to wedding plans.

‘If you decide to cancel a wedding, unless a country is banning entry, won’t supply visas or a venue has closed and you won’t be able to go ahead with the event, you will most likely not be covered by insurance,’ he states.

Jane agrees, warning couples not to cancel nor postpone their weddings ‘too early if they can help it’, rather base their decision on government advice as it comes.

Photo credit: Mykhailo Lukashuk/Blend Images - Getty Images

‘If a venue is still happy to go ahead but a couple are unsure, it can put couples in difficult situations and possibly incurring financial penalties,’ she says.

Does a postponement act as a cancelation?

For couples who are concerned that a wedding venue or supplier may view a postponement the same as a cancelation, Rycroft wants to reassure them that he believes they are two different things from a legal perspective.

‘When it comes to a situation like we now see ourselves in with Covid-19, we’re into the scope of contract law and considering what is reasonable,’ he explains.

‘For example, if you decide not to go ahead with a wedding because you get “cold feet”, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a couple to lose their wedding deposit. In addition, a venue/supplier might have an argument to demand more than the deposit, depending on how close the cancelation was to the date or charge the agreed amount in full.’

However, he says that if a couple gave a venue or supplier a reasonable amount of notice, ‘say six to nine months warning’ informing them that they want to postpone their big day, it should give the businesses plenty of time to ‘resell’ the date to another couple.

‘This all depends what is reasonable to request. We need to use established practices in cases concerning coronavirus,’ Rycroft adds.

Holder agrees, noting that if a couple needs to postpone their wedding and he is available on a new date ‘it wouldn’t be deemed a cancelation’.

‘The photography community is very strong and I am a member of a fantastic referral group who if in the unlikely event I was unable to cover a wedding day, a photographer of similar style and competence would photograph the day and they would be edited by myself,’ he adds.

From Jane’s perspective, she’s already looking at new, suitable dates with couples looking to postpone their wedding days at the moment but it’s important to remain fair.

‘We understand that it is a stressful time for couples but try not to take it out on suppliers with harsh demands,’ she says. ‘And bear in mind they will already have a full 2020 calendar at this point with peak dates in 2021 already filling.

‘There needs to be give and take on both sides and realistic expectations of the changes that can be made. Expecting a peak date on a Saturday in August, for example, as a swap with your current wedding date would be very unfair at this current climate. If neither the couple or the photographer can do any new proposed dates then it would come down to that individual photographer’s contract and what they would be willing to offer at such a late stage in the cancellation process.’

What is a variation clause?

It is common in commercial contracts, such as those for weddings, to include a provision that any changes made to the contract are ineffective unless made in writing and signed by or on behalf of both parties.

This is known as a variation clause and is intended to prevent informal or inadvertent oral changes regarding situations such as contract cancelations or terminations.

Heather Stanford of contract template company Stanford Gould outlines on wedding website Love My Dress that sometimes contracts have clauses that deal with postponements.

‘Usually, there are financial consequences of changing or cancelling what you have originally agreed, and those consequences are usually more severe to the paying party the closer to the date they occur,’ Stanford states.

Photo credit: Nerida McMurray Photography - Getty Images

‘Given that most wedding suppliers get booked 12 – 18 months ahead of an event it is not unusual to see terms that require full payment, or substantial payment if you cancel within six months or less of the event.’

For a couple wanting to keep their booking with a venue or supplier but change the date of their wedding (note, a variation), Rycroft argues that this would still be there preferred option for both parties rather than a cancelation.

‘For venues and couples that are facing uncertainty, while rescheduling a wedding isn’t ideal, postponement is an attractive issue for both sides. From a business point of view, it shows the venue/supplier has viability because still want to trade with them,' he says.

When is the best time to contact suppliers if you're considering postponing your wedding?

In much the same way that if you were expecting an issue to arise with an upcoming event or travel plans, the best port of call when considering amending details to your wedding day is to contact suppliers and venues as early as possible.

Rycroft told us that immediate action is required if you have concerns about your wedding day.

‘You won’t be the only one with concerns,’ he says. ‘As soon as you can articulate your worries and talk about options with your wedding venue, supplier and external contacts, the better. From a legal point of view, in many cases, the options on how to remedy the situation will narrow down if you leave it too late.’

As someone working in the wedding industry, Lewis advises couples to review their contracts with their photographers and speak to venues to see if they’re willing to go ahead with the wedding.

Photo credit: Martina Lanotte / EyeEm - Getty Images

She warns couples to get in touch with suppliers ‘straight away to air their concerns and ask advice’.

‘Remember photographers will be dealing with a great deal of emails at this time, so please be patient and respectful and your photographer will be the same with you,’ she notes.

If you need to make a complaint to your insurance company, do so directly. If the company fails to respond or you are in disagreement with what they say, you can escalate your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman.

As an independent adjudicator, the ombudsman will make the final decision on a claim if you find yourself in a dispute with your insurer.

Do you have to have had a written agreement to amending wedding details?

If you’ve ever seen a legal drama on TV, you’ll know that a contract isn’t solely recognised as such when there’s a document with the word ‘contract’ in big bold letters printed at the top.

‘It’s perfectly possible to have a verbal contract, as long as it’s understood by all parties,’ explains Rycroft. He continues, explaining that they can also be in the form of emails, for example between a client and wedding supplier when ones asks a question and the other answers in agreement to something.

‘The key issue when considering wedding contracts is to take into account what are the terms of the contract, what did the parties understand them to be and how the contract was constructed (meaning what was intended),’ the lawyer explains. ‘The attraction of having a written contract is evidence of what’s agreed.'

Above all, keep a record of everything relating to your wedding so you can check over details if required.

If some guests are unable to attend your wedding, will you have to pay for them if it goes ahead?

Strictly speaking, if you’ve signed a contract saying you have for example 100 guests needing 100 meals on your wedding day then that is what you pay for.

However, given the circumstances, Rycroft says it’s important to chat to venues and suppliers to explain the difficulties as there might be scope to change the contract.

‘Contracts are set in stone in the sense that you whatever you sign up for, then that’s the deal,’ he says.

‘That said, you can go back before performance of the contract (when the wedding is scheduled to take place) to change details. Whether the other party will agree, depends on the bargaining power of the client. People’s bargaining power is shifting at the moment and there’s nothing to say that a contract can’t be changed if both parties are in agreement.’

Is it the client or vendor's responsibility to strike up a conversation about options during the outbreak?

While there is a duty for venues and suppliers to keep you updated with their changing practices, it’s important for the client to take action and raise any concerns about what might happen.

Photo credit: Jansamon Thongra-Ar / EyeEm - Getty Images

‘It comes both ways,’ says Rycroft. ‘People fall back and rely on legal documents and insurance during uncertain times like this. People are more reasonable if you have a conversation as soon as possible – we’re all human. We’re all facing uncertainty.’

Will you be financially covered if you paid for a wedding using a credit card?

Rycroft says that when considering what you’ve covered for financially when considering your wedding date, think about how you paid for certain things like venues and suppliers.

Consumer company Which? explains that under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, ‘a credit card company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the retailer or trader’.

This currently stands for anything bought worth between £100.01 and £30,000 on a credit card.

This means that a credit card company is just as responsible as the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied (in this case, for a wedding), allowing you to also put your claim to the credit card company.

‘If you paid for a venue on your credit card, they go out of business, the venue might not be able to pay, the credit card company should be able to cover you,’ says Rycroft.

According to Which? even if you’ve only paid a deposit and the rest was paid in cash, you're still covered for the whole cost of hiring the venue.

However, it’s important to remember that credit card protection isn’t a substitute for wedding insurance, for example in the cases when someone falls ill or personal liability.

What should couples do if they are worried about their weddings and losing money?

It is an uncertain time for people across the world during the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, when it comes to a wedding day, Rycroft advises couples to have an open conversation with wedding suppliers and venues.

‘They will also be having worries about whether people will go ahead – we’re all in the same boat – so it’s important to see if you can come to some agreement,’ he notes.

‘If you feel unhappy, for any reason, take legal advice. You can always talk with the venue/supplier and take legal counsel before replying and considering all your options.’

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Visit the World Health Organisation website and the NHS website to find out the latest information regarding the coronavirus.


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