At a time when a health and economic crisis has hit the world, we are hearing of some companies that are taking advantage and not adhering to their legal obligations. Whilst the majority of businesses are doing the right thing by their customers, many are not. They are hoping that consumers do not know their legal rights or believe that consumer rights don’t apply in this situation, when they most certainly do!
For example, we have heard of many airlines breaching the law and only offering vouchers or making it very difficult for customers to claim full refunds, for example. Coronavirus and travel – who’s taking advantage? And for what your rights are and how to assert them see Travel in the time of Coronavirus – Your rights explained
Another sector not playing by the rules is wedding venues.
Hotels, that are also often hired for weddings, have, of course, had to cancel events due to COVID-19. The consumer is not cancelling, the venue is, so the venue is in breach of contract and should make a full refund. However, a number of them are charging a cancellation fee, stating that it is in their terms and conditions. The venue is cancelling, so this could be deemed an unfair contract term and condition under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPUTRs) and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is closely monitoring businesses through this period. It has the power to open a consumer enforcement if it finds strong and compelling evidence that the law might have been broken and can call on the company or companies to change their behaviour by committing to formal undertakings or promises. If they refuse, then the case can be taken to court. It is asking consumers to report price hikes or making misleading claims about their products and services. Its report published 24 April 2020 stated that:
“• As of 19 April, the CMA had received just under 21,000 COVID-19 related complaints, of which 14,000 have come via its dedicated online form.
• The CMA has written to 187 firms accounting for over 2,500 complaints about large price rises for personal hygiene products, such as hand sanitiser and food products.
• Complaints relating to cancellations and refunds now account for 4 out of 5 complaints being received.”
A spokesperson for the CMA said “CMA will not hesitate to take enforcement action if there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law.”
So what can you do if you have booked and paid for a venue and it is now refusing to refund you?
1) Write. Always write so that you have an evidence trail. Go straight to the top. Write to the CEO getting the contact from ceoemail.com You are unlikely to get a response from the CEO but it will help to escalate the matter.
2) In the current circumstances it would help to support businesses if you accepted a new date for the event, at no extra cost, if you can. But this should be like for like. For example a weekend date for a weekend or a partial refund if it is a weekday.
Update July 2020. As weddings start to start again…! This is the KEY thing. It has to be like for like. So although it may have been clearer before (i.e. it couldn’t go ahead) it still stands. IF you booked for X and you can only do Y (e.g. fewer guests) you ARE entitled to a full refund or like for like postponement.
3) If you are not able to do this, state that you require a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as the company is in breach of contract.
4) Include in your email the date by which you expect to hear back from them and what you will do if you do not receive a satisfactory response.
5) Say that if you are not fully satisfied with their response, you will not hesitate in taking the matter further. This will include, but not be limited to, reporting them to the CMA, sharing your experience on social media and seeking redress through the Small Claims Court or will be contacting your Credit Card company or bank A guide to credit and debit cards and the Consumer Credit Act 1974
6) If they are relying on any unfair terms and conditions such as unrefundable deposit then quote from the CPUTRs (link above).
7) If you do use Section 75 and are refused take the case to the Financial Ombudsman.
8) If you have wedding insurance you could also try using this and if you have difficulty take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman. However, it is worth noting that insurance is there if YOU cancel. The Insurance company is likely to correctly say that the venue should be paying up. It may get more complicated for other services regarding the wedding!
9) Once Government advice is that wedding venues can run as normal and offer you the same service as you booked e.g. for 200 guests and 200 are allowed then you will need to go ahead or forfeit any costs as it will be you changing your mind and breaking the contract. In these circumstances you insurance may cover you as it is there for if you not the venue cancels.
10) I am amazed by the number of people who have contacted me all of whom are taking up my time and asking for my expert help for free without a “Please” or a “Thank you”. When you try and negotiate with a venue or are asking anything of anybody manners go a long way!
This advice goes for all the associated services too!
It is outrageous that companies are treating customers this way. Ultimately it will backfire, as now more than ever consumers are taking note of which companies are doing the right thing by their customers and which ones are not.
Businesses can take advantage of Government schemes, such as furloughing staff, and business grants and not least insurance if they properly protected themselves. But the consumer has no such cover. Consumers can only rely on the law and the law should be upheld.
Ultimately only a court can decide if a company is in breach of consumer law. However, it is unlikely any company in breach of contract would want to go to court and let the flood gates open….”
Further Covid and consumer rights related help
Covid 19: Guidance for small weddings and civil partnerships Government updated advice on numbers of people who can attend venues etc.
See Travel in the time of Coronavirus – Your rights explained for more about holidays, travel, rights and how to assert them.
See All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights/travel for more advice and help including coronavirus related travel/events.
For more advice, tips and templates for complaining see GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!