We are aware that couples are likely to seek out further information on the Wedding Venues Support Group Ltd, especially where their venues are members. As a group, we are conscious of the difficulties faced by couples at this time. We hope you understand that we are not able to handle direct questions from couples nor are we a complaints service, and encourage you to discuss any issues with your venue directly.
This page hopefully answers some of the main questions you may have. We also point couples to our supporting statement.
Although it is much quoted in the press and by consumer rights protagonists implying it is in fact the law, the guidance itself states it is the 'CMA’s views on how the law operates' and 'ultimately only a court can decide how the law applies in each case'.
It is important to understand that The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is an independent non-ministerial department of the UK Government. It is not a part of the justice system and does not and cannot make the law or give legal judgements.
The CMA is important in ensuring that consumers have a voice and are aware of laws in place to help them. The WVSG wholeheartedly agree with a fair outcome for all involved at these times. Consumers are rightly protected against terms that push the balance unfairly against them and the Consumer Rights Act is in place to strike out unfair terms to consumers in contracts.
The WVSG have sought to engage with the CMA as laid out in our couples statement. It is unfortunate that they did not consult with the weddings sector to understand it and the nature of the contracts between couples and suppliers prior to issuing guidance. This forced the WVSG to seek Tier 1 QC opinion and ensure its members gained appropriate understanding of the law and how it may be interpreted in the worse case scenario for all in a court case.
Counsel's opinion of the CMA guidance in summary: 'The Guidance is not balanced and seems to have been written more as an exercise in consumer advocacy, rather than a fair analysis of the rights of consumers, traders and insurers in what are obviously unprecedented times.'
The WVSG is aware that the CMA has reached agreements with a limited number of individual venues following complaints by couples and that these are specific to individual circumstances. There has been coverage of these by Consumer Rights commentators and it is noted that the agreements also seem to contradict the CMA's own guidance.
All WVSG members are simply seeking fair outcomes. The Covid-19 crisis and the restrictions placed on weddings has had a devastating effect on couples who have been planning their weddings for, on average, 18 months. This is a pain that all venues have shared repeatedly with their couples.
Wedding venues have seen the loss of 95% of their annual incomes, whilst still having to carry significant ongoing costs and provide support for their couples throughout the pandemic. This has been exacerbated by the absence of any roadmap from the Government for reopening weddings. Many venues have taken out and exhausted loans and dipped into personal savings to survive. Livelihoods of families have been put at risk and venues have suffered the heartbreak of telling trusted employees they have lost their jobs.
From the outset, venues have been very much of the opinion that postponement is the best and fairest outcome for all parties and an option that facilitates business survival. The WVSG strongly agree with this. It is also right that couples are given the equal right to cancel instead of postpone. However, in doing so the WVSG believes couples need to recognise that expenses incurred by the venue in respect of the delivery of the wedding up to that point of cancellation may not be refunded. WVSG member venues have been heartened by the majority of couples who have understood this and worked closely with the venue to find a palatable and fair outcome for all in these difficult times.
In the Opinion of the QC, “The CMA Guidance is likely to be wrong as a matter of law because it is
imbalanced and suggests the categories of ‘just’ expenses recoverable by a wedding event provider from a consumer are very restricted, essentially limited to direct expenses such as bespoke goods already made and expenditure incurred in wedding planning.” The Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 Act actually places no limits upon the types of expenses that may be fairly retained, including maintenance and overheads to name but a few
As a result CMA have given couples unrealistic expectations about the level of refunds to which they are entitled and removed from insurers the obligation to meet wedding insurance claims. This is damaging to the interests of both couples and their venues.
No venue likes to discuss a situation in which a couple will no longer be celebrating their special day at their venue, but we all understand that times have changed.
The CMA guidance, and in part the reporting on it, created the opinion for some couples that in fact they were entitled to a full refund with very limited exceptions for expenses if restrictions prevented a wedding proceeding. The Counsel's opinion stated that the interpretation of the CMA on just expenses was 'too narrow'.
Where couples had purchased wedding insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances, including 'closure of the venue by the local authority' or 'closure of the venue due to an outbreak of infections or contagious disease', the response of the insurance sector has been disappointing.
Counsel stated: "In my opinion the CMA Guidance (collectively) is not balanced and may have been counterproductive to the interests of consumers because insurance companies have cited it to avoid paying consumer claims on the basis that the guidance means that the trader is wholly responsible for Covid 19 refunds. This is contrary to the expectation of most consumers, who would ordinarily rely on their insurance cover to protect them against such unforeseen events. It may also have unfairly placed the burden of Covid 19 compensation on smaller traders as opposed to national insurance providers."
There have been two approaches adopted by wedding insurance underwriters:
The WVSG feels that insurers have been trying to drive a wedge between couples and their venues and are not following the Financial Ombudsman guidance. This states: 'We expect any insurer to remember its duties to deal with claims fairly and promptly, and not to reject a claim unreasonably.'
The WVSG is not a mediation or complaints service for couples and their venues and we are not able to respond to any direct questions from non-members, including couples.
It is our strong belief that issues are best addressed through constructive dialogue between parties. We realise at times this can get difficult but also that a deep breath and trying again to build a common understanding is invaluable. It is important that couples seek full and proper legal advice if they feel they are not being treated fairly by their venue and ensure they are given a balanced view of the law.
The CMA has a complaints process for consumers who feel they are not being treated fairly by businesses.
The WVSG is focused on supporting venues (including temporary venues, such as marquees) and cannot answer questions on the cross relevance of any matter to other wedding suppliers or contracts. Its opinion sought from Counsel was solely in relation to wedding venues.