I last wrote about weddings back in 2020 when the world came to a stop and weddings up and down the country were unfortunately cancelled, put on hold or at best restricted to the number of guests allowed to be present. My heart went out to all those couples who were left not only gutted their dream day wasn’t going to be happening but also the number of individuals who were fighting to get their money back. The Competition & Markets Authority was very clear on how the law protects consumers in this instance and essentially means refunds, no admin fees, and whilst credit is okay the refund should be an option.

The blog I wrote can be found here and was focused on consumers and their rights: Your rights as a consumer during Covid-19 Pandemic – weddings, other events or services – BEB Contract & Legal Services (bebconsultancy.co.uk)

Fast forward to 2024 and here I am planning my own wedding. Now I know in the majority of cases bride to be’s do not read the terms that have been sent to them, but I’m no normal bride to be. Terms and conditions are my speciality and despite knowing where some contracts would not even be enforceable, I do not feel comfortable signing anything that limits my rights as a consumer or could cost me financially and cause issues along the way should the unthinkable happen.

The wedding industry is absolutely huge. There are wedding venues, photographers, make-up artists, entertainers, wedding planners, stationary suppliers, venue décor, caterers all to think about meaning consumers have multiple contracts going on for their big day.

The biggest problems occur for you as a supplier is when your contracts and terms aren’t clear and up to date, leading to misinterpretation and opening you up to liabilities. You may not even have any terms (which is business suicide) or you may be issuing terms that are just not enforceable.

Let’s talk ‘non-refundable deposits’ …

A deposit is seen as an integral part of a contractual agreement, however just simply labelling it as ‘non-refundable’ does not make this lawful. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 is clear on this matter and any deposits retained must be fair, proportionate and must only be used to mitigate the losses you as a supplier may receive should there be a cancellation. Any deposits kept must not be seen to be a penalty to the consumer and must be a legitimate protection to your business that is proportionate to the potential loss suffered. For example, cancelling a year in advance, it is likely that your business could rebook that date therefore it would be deemed unfair for you to benefit from a consumer’s unfortunate event of needing to cancel. By not following consumer law you run the risk of your customers doing chargebacks or being taking to court and then be liable to the consumer not only for a correct refund but also any court fees if your terms are deemed to be unfair.

One of biggest bug bears with terms and conditions is the lack of consistency and when certain things just do not make sense. Make sure your booking form is therefore consistent with your terms and conditions. By making simple mistakes you run the risk of again any terms being ruled out for uncertainty. Staged payments are completely normal, a deposit followed by a 50% and sometimes even a 3rd payment. Are you sure the instructions of when each stage needs to be paid is clear. My recommendation would always be to put any breakdown of payments due on the booking form and not leave it to the consumer to work out when everything is due by your terms, 180 days and 90 days before the event is not clear and you run the risk of engaged couples what with everything else they are planning overlook this causing you admin issues having to chase payments. On one set of terms I looked at, referred to “billing instructions” on the booking form but that word wasn’t present at all on the booking form. This is basic stuff, make it consistent.

You should also always consider a clause that refers to your right to cancel. If you’re a one man band there are obvious risks and without limiting your liability you open a can of worms if you have to cancel on an engaged couple a few weeks before the event. Further, if you are the one that needs to cancel you absolutely must make this fair, any services not received by your customers would be entitled to claim their money back and a clause such as ‘the company will charge for the damages occurring from any situation’ is not only terribly written but not legal nor enforceable.

Other points to consider;

Do your terms still quote an old law like Data Protection Act 1998? Another one I see a lot, it’s sloppy and shows your terms are not current and have not been reviewed for a good number of years.

Have you mentioned consumer law at all? In some cases, consumers get the right to cancel within a cooling off period if the contract was formed away from a physical premises. In the absence of not stating the cooling off period at all you run the risk of having that cooling off period increased in the eyes of the law.

Ultimately your terms and conditions are there to protect both parties should the worst happen, not only in the event of a cancellation but should there be other hiccups before, during and after the event. A venue terms and conditions for example would be different to a make-up artist and then different again to a photographers, the rights and obligations would differ massively. Having terms and conditions that are drafted bespoke to your business not only gives you absolute peace of mind it also shows you off with a professional light and gives your customers complete confidence when booking with you.

If you would like a free review of your current terms and conditions please email me at kerry@bebconsultancy.co.uk and I would absolutely love to chat with you all things weddings!