Wedding costs: how to cut the big bill for your big day

With so many weddings cancelled or delayed because of lockdowns, how do you recoup the costs?

The 30-person cap on marriage ceremonies in England and Wales was scrapped this week. But weddings are still puritanical affairs, with tight curbs on singing and dancing. Social distancing must be respected, which can limit guest numbers. In Scotland hard limits are still in place and depend on the “protection level” in force in the local area. The removal of the 30-person cap is a relief to couples, who have avoided the heart-breaking prospect of having to disinvite people over the guest limit. But some will still postpone the big day. The new rules are “like giving you a trifle and not putting the jelly in it”, Kathy Leather from Malvern, who with her partner has decided to postpone her wedding, tells the BBC. “You can’t have a celebration without chatting and dancing and singing”. It’s “a lot of money to not do what you want to do”.

When it comes to getting money back, weddings cancelled because of lockdowns are straightforward: guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says that “the starting point under the law is that the consumer should be offered a full refund”. The current restrictions make things more complicated. What if your wedding can go ahead, but the rules mean it falls far short of what you had planned?

Helen Saxon and Jenny Keefe on say the first step is to try to sort things out amicably with the venue and suppliers (keep in mind that Covid-19 has devastated their industry). It may be possible to negotiate reductions on items such as catering charges for a scaled-back ceremony. Also investigate whether your wedding insurance or card chargebacks offer any protection.

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Would you be within your rights to cancel? The key legal concept is that of “frustration”, defined by the CMA as applying when a contract can’t be performed or “performance would be radically different to what was agreed”. Frustration brings the contract to an end. Not all changes count as frustration. A wedding set to go ahead “at the agreed venue, with catering and a reception mainly as agreed, for a substantial majority of the agreed number of guests” is unlikely to be judged frustrated in court.

Cancelling is expensive: for example, Sarah Rainey in the Daily Mail reports that one Hertfordshire couple faces losing a £4,000 venue deposit and another £5,770 on deposits paid to other suppliers in the event of cancellation.

That said, deposit money is not necessarily lost. Contract terms such as “non-refundable deposit” carry little legal weight. Venues are entitled to subtract reasonable costs from refunds but these “must reflect what it is actually losing as a result of the cancellation”, says the CMA. That applies to things such as meal tastings, flowers and staff hours worked on preparation. The later you cancel the higher these costs are likely to climb. Consumers who cancel an event that could have gone ahead “should not face disproportionately high charges for ending the contract”.

Hail the micro-wedding

Will scaled-back weddings last beyond the pandemic? Soaring property prices are changing people’s priorities. A Halifax survey reports that 62% of engaged British couples “would consider reallocating their wedding budget towards a deposit for a house”. The trend even has a name. In America the “micro-wedding”, with guest counts as low as 25, is reportedly gaining popularity. Lower guest counts cut costs and allow more flexibility in venue choice.

“I always cry at weddings,” says Linda Kelsey in the Daily Mail. Why? “The mad scale and the crazy cost – £32,000 on average for a 100-plus guest list… I sincerely hope that dramatically downsized weddings are here to stay.”