We wrote last year about the devastating impact of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on the hospitality and leisure industry.
For the majority of 2020 and much of 2021, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies were subject to stringent restrictions, with the number of guests being limited to as little as 15. This caused many couples to postpone their weddings or cancel them altogether, which inevitably led to disputes with venues and suppliers over refunds and cancellation terms in their contracts.
In September 2020, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) released guidance for consumers saying that any wedding or civil partnership ceremony that could not go ahead due to lockdown restrictions had been “frustrated”, and couples were able to get a refund of any monies paid and would not be liable for any further payments due under the contract.
The law on frustration is very complicated. However, in principle, if an event occurs that is outside of the parties’ control (such as the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions) which renders performance of the contract either impossible or radically different from what was agreed under the original contract, then the contract is considered to have been frustrated. This means that the contract will come to an end, and any monies that have been paid under the contract need to be refunded (less any reasonable deductions).
Many venues circumvented this issue by offering alternative dates to couples. However, disputes arose when couples asked to cancel rather than postpone their ceremonies. The CMA guidance is based on what it considers a court is likely to decide, but is not itself legally binding. That said, the CMA did take enforcement action in late 2020 against a wedding group that was only offering very limited refunds and has warned that it will take action against any other venues which it considers are not operating a “fair” refund policy.
After “Freedom Day” on 19 July 2021, all restrictions on the number of guests able to attend events such as weddings and funerals were lifted, as well as the rules on social distancing and the wearing of masks. As such, the wedding industry was able to start getting back on its feet.
However, with Covid-19 still present, many in the industry felt the Government should go one step further and allow ceremonies to be conducted outdoors to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The Government has responded by confirming that the temporary legislation introduced last Summer, which allowed wedding and civil partnership ceremonies to take place outdoors, will now be made permanent. This decision has been welcomed by almost everyone in the industry and the wider public as it gives couples more flexibility when arranging their ceremony. The legislation applies to civil ceremonies from 15 March 2022 and will apply later to religious ceremonies too.
This change should give a welcome boost to the industry that has been impacted so significantly over the last two years.
However, if your business is still facing claims around delays or cancellations of wedding or civil partnership ceremonies and you need support, please do contact our Hospitality and Leisure Team below.