Resolving a dispute with a wedding supplier

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What are your legal rights?

Your wedding day is one of the biggest days of your life; the culmination of months of meticulous planning, and the careful coordination of all the suppliers that you rely on to make your day perfect.

The wedding industry has boomed, and research by the website Hitched estimated that the average cost of a wedding in 2022 was £18,400 (excluding the cost of the honeymoon). To make your wedding day perfect, there are so many suppliers that you have to rely on: caterers, photographers, videographers, entertainment providers, chauffeurs, florists, venue managers and dressmakers, to name but a few.

But what can you do if disaster strikes and one of your wedding suppliers lets you down?

This article outlines your options if the actions (or inaction) of a wedding supplier spoils your big day.

With so many different elements to juggle and suppliers to manage, the risk of something going wrong on your big day is ever present. Some of the problems with suppliers that can arise include:

  • the wrong goods (such as flowers, the wedding dress or suits) being delivered;
  • hair or make-up letting you down;
  • food being inadequate, substandard, or not what was ordered;
  • guests suffering from food poisoning;
  • wedding cake not what you expected;
  • wedding photos or video being poor quality;
  • your venue being double-booked, going bust or building works not completed;
  • entertainment provider or chauffeur being late, not turning up or not as expected; or
  • overnight accommodation being double booked or not as advertised.

All of these problems have the potential to cause varying levels of emotional distress, but some can cause financial loss too. This loss can be significant if the worst happens and  you are forced to cancel your wedding. So, what are your legal rights if a supplier lets you down and you are left upset and out of pocket?

The Agreement

The first place to check is the written agreement between you and the supplier (if you have one) and the terms of this agreement. It is likely that if the product or service was poor, the terms will have been breached and you will have a claim for breach of contract. Often, however, there may not be a written agreement between the parties or it may be badly drafted. Fortunately, you have additional rights which are implied by law.

Refunds under the Consumer Rights Act 2015

Under the Consumer Rights Act (“CRA”), when you buy or hire a product – such as flowers, a wedding dress, suits or wedding cake – they must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

Similarly, if you engage a service provider – such as a DJ, a chauffeured car, a caterer, a photographer or a videographer – they are obliged under the CRA to provide the service you paid for with reasonable care and skill.

If one of your wedding suppliers fails in this legal duty, you are entitled to apply for a refund, a partial refund and possibly compensation for emotional distress if the failure on the part of the supplier badly impacts your enjoyment of the day.

How much of a refund you can claim will depend on how unsatisfactory the service or product provided was. It is always better to complain to the supplier in question on the day as they may be able to remedy the problem straight away. It is also important to put your complaint in writing so that you have a paper trail to evidence the issues that you had.

If the wedding food provided is inedible you could request a full refund; if not enough food is served, you could request a partial refund for the meals not provided. If a guest becomes sick because of the wedding food, they may be able to bring their own personal injury claim against the food supplier.

If your wedding entertainer is terrible, turns up late or does not turn up at all, you should be able to claim a full refund because they will have failed to provide their service with reasonable skill and care.

If your wedding dress or suits do not turn up in time, or they are the wrong size, the incorrect design or damaged on arrival, you can ask for a refund from the outlet who sold or rented you the garments.

With services like photographers, if some of the photos are good but the rest are substandard, you can request a partial refund. Similarly with florists: if some of the flowers turn up and are unusable, you can only claim a refund for the ones that are missing or damaged.

When you book your wedding transport, it is important to check the small print of the contract with them to ensure it does not contain a clause saying that they will not be held liable for any delays. Even if it does, it may still be possible to claim a full or partial refund if the delay was unreasonable.

Cancelled wedding venue

A more serious blow to any wedding is if your venue becomes unavailable, perhaps because building work has not been completed on time, or it has gone into administration or has been double booked.

If your wedding venue has gone bust, you will need to register a claim with the administrator to try and get your money back. This can be a long process and it is by no means certain that you will claw back all of your deposit or venue fee.

An alternative course of action, if you have paid by credit card, is to make a Section 75 claim under the Consumer Credit Act. This clause makes your credit card provider equally responsible for any loss that you suffered for items bought costing between £100 and £30,000.

If you have wedding insurance, an easier course of action may be to make a claim under that policy.

If you have to cancel your wedding venue, the money you lose will depend on the terms of the contract you have with the venue providers. Before you sign up for a venue, you should always read the small print carefully to see what you will be liable for on cancellation.

Non-refundable deposits can only be a small percentage of the total price, according to the Competition and Markets Authority, and wedding venue providers can only usually keep part of the deposit they need to cover the financial loss they have suffered.

If you cancel well in advance of the wedding, you should be able to claim a full refund of the deposit as they are likely to be able to hire the venue to someone else. However, if you cancel right at the last minute, you are likely to lose most if not all of your deposit because the venue provider is unlikely to be able to mitigate their losses.

If you do cancel, you may also have to pay a cancellation fee, if the contract stipulates this. Whatever the wording in the contract, the cancellation fee must still be reasonable and only a valid assessment of the venue provider’s financial loss.

How a solicitor can help

If your request for a refund is refused, or you feel you deserve more than just a refund to compensate you for the misery caused, or if you have had to cancel the wedding and are not happy with the deposit and cancellation fee arrangements, you should seek legal advice.

Our team of specialist dispute resolution solicitors can talk you through your options, and negotiate with the other side to come to a fair settlement.

We will help you gather all the evidence you need to strengthen your claim, suggest alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, and handle all aspects of your claim including offering legal advice and speaking on your behalf if your case needs to go to court.

For further information, please contact Rebecca Beynon-Phillips in the dispute resolution team on 01733 882800 or email [email protected].

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