UK News Coronavirus Weddings: Government Bans Food And Singing In New Guidance

18:16  16 july  2020
18:16  16 july  2020 Source:   elleuk.com

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a person standing in front of a window: Here's everything you need to know about weddings during coronavirus (Covid-19). From wedding insurance to travel, here's how to stay informed. © YURI ARCURS PRODUCTIONS - Getty Images Here's everything you need to know about weddings during coronavirus (Covid-19). From wedding insurance to travel, here's how to stay informed.

We will be updating this piece as more information comes in.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has thrown into question several, if not all, aspects of daily life as we know it.

Naturally, the overall threat that the virus poses to the public’s health is of great concern, as is the future of small businesses, wages, rent and mortgage payments, food and resources and our ability to travel.

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By now, wedding season usually would have been in full swing but, as a result of the virus, many couples have been forced to postpone and even cancel their big day, with others questioning whether their upcoming nuptials later this year will be able to go ahead as planned.

In recent months, several couples have taken to social media to detail the latest news on their upcoming weddings and Princess Beatrice and her fiancé Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi announced that they have cancelled their Buckingham Palace wedding reception, which was scheduled to take place in May. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the pandemic, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned the public to only go outside for food, health reasons or work (if working from home is impossible) and to keep at least two metres apart when outside.

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However, like with all industries and commitments at this time, one hopes there will be leeway when it comes to the financial obligations, postponement of events and negotiating contracts given the unprecedented situation.

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On Tuesday March 17, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a package of financial measures to help the UK economy during this time, that includes £330bn in loans, £20bn in other aid, a business rates holiday, and grants for retailers and pubs. He described the current climate as an ‘economic emergency’.

‘Like in most industries it’s a challenging time for us all,’ says wedding photographer Oliver Holder. ‘Fortunately, the wedding industry is one of the most buoyant, we just need to stick together and stay calm!’

And, more recently, the government has released its latest strategy for helping rebuild society and how it plans to allow people to gather in large groups.

We spoke to several experts in the wedding and legal industry to find out practical advice for couples facing uncertainty with their upcoming weddings.

What has the government said about attending mass gatherings during the Covid-19 outbreak?

According to new government guidance, weddings and civil partnerships will be able to go ahead from July 4.

Only 30 people including the couple, photographer and witnesses will be able to attend the service, at a socially-acceptable distance.

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Singing is banned, in favour of recordings, 'because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets'. Hands must also be washed before couples exchange rings.

'Any pre-requisite washing/ablution rituals should not be done at the venue but carried out prior to arrival,' it adds.

a person holding a piece of paper: Close-up of Newlywed couple Exchanging Rings at Wedding Ceremony © Bread and Butter Productions - Getty Images Close-up of Newlywed couple Exchanging Rings at Wedding Ceremony

In addition, ceremonies should be kept ‘as short as reasonably possible’, no food and drink should be consumed (unless required for the purposes of solemnisation), speaking should not be in a raise voice and venues should be marked with floor tape to help people keep a social distance.

Receptions are instructed to be small, with only two households able to meet inside, and fathers aren’t allowed to walk their daughters arm-in-arm down the aisle.

In Northern Ireland, weddings of up to 10 people are allowed outdoors, while in Wales, they can also take place as long as social distancing is enforced. Outdoor marriages and civil partnerships are also allowed to take place in Scotland.

On Monday May 11, justice secretary Robert Buckland told BBC Radio 4 that he was giving ‘anxious consideration’ to potential changes. The news came a day after PM Boris Johnson outlined a ‘conditional’ plan to start relaxing lockdown measures in England. However, he failed to mention any ruling regarding large social gatherings such as nuptials.

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‘Watch this space, we're working on it,’ Buckland said on the programme, referring to rules on marriage ceremonies.

He added there are many couples who want to get married ‘because things are happening in their life that means they might not be together for a long time’.

Prior to lockdown, the Church of England restricted wedding ceremonies to just five people - including the bride and groom and the priest.

During the PM’s speech, he explained that those who can go to work should do so (but avoid public transport) and that individuals will now be able to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, sit or sunbathe in parks, drive to other destinations to exercise and play sports with household members from Wednesday May 13.

In March, the UK prime minister advised the public to work from home, where possible, as part of a range of stringent new measures to reduce mass gatherings.

During a press briefing on Monday March 16, Boris Johnson said everyone in the UK should avoid ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus. He outlined that ‘drastic action’ was needed in the UK as it approaches ‘the fact growth part of the upward curve’ in the number of cases.

a row of wooden benches sitting on top of a picnic table: Coronavirus - Weddings © Victor Dyomin - Getty Images Coronavirus - Weddings

According to the government’s advice, if you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, you should stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. If you live with others and one of them presents symptoms, then all dwellers must not leave the house for 14 days (the 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill).

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On Sunday March 22, Johnson then went on to explain what the government means by 'social distancing' after the public appeared to misunderstand the need to stop face-to-face social contact as much as possible.

'Don't think fresh air in itself automatically provides some immunity,' Mr Johnson said, adding that even if individuals think they are invulnerable, 'there are plenty of people you could infect.

'Take this advice seriously, follow it, because it's absolutely crucial.

'My message is you've got to do this in line with the advice, you've got to follow the social distancing rule - keep 2m apart.'

Find out more information here.

Does a wedding come under the term ‘mass gathering’?

In recent weeks events such as Glastonbury Festival, the Grand National and the Euro 2020 were postponed or cancelled.

As a result of Johnson's latest comments regarding social interactions in person, the wedding industry will continue to be affected by the government’s advice.

Wedding photographer Emma-Jane Lewis told us that she, and many photographers, are taking the current situation on a case-by-case basis.

‘As a lot of photographers I am speaking with in the industry are trying to go ahead as normal like myself as best as we can while still going on government advice,’ she says.

‘Unfortunately, it is a very uncertain time, both for wedding couples who have invested months of planning and financial input as well as the wedding and events industry which are seeing restrictions imposed.

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‘It means a lack of financial support from the government as freelancers, meaning we are feeling very isolated at this time without support.’

What does wedding insurance cover you for?

As is the case with most insurance you take out, be it for a car, property or holiday, insurance cover protects you from any unforeseen issues that might arise that could have financial implications.

When it comes to a couple’s big day, MoneySavingExpert.com explains that wedding insurance ‘covers a problem with the venue or a supplier, or a key wedding party member falling ill. It does not cover a change of heart’.

In most cases, depending on the type of cover a couple takes out, a wedding will be covered by insurance policies for the following:

  • If a venue goes busts or cancels on you
  • A supplier lets you down
  • You’re forced to cancel because key guest can’t attend due to poor health
  • Personal liability and legal expenses
  • Lost, stolen or damaged goods

Will wedding insurance cover you for Covid-19?

It is currently a grey area if an insurance policy will cover a wedding affected by Covid-19.

‘It will all depend what your wedding insurance specifically covers and the circumstances we’re now facing,’ explains Gary Rycroft, the chair of the Law Society’s digital assets working group and a consumer law expert.

Last month, several companies including John Lewis Finance, Debenhams and Wedding Plan Insurance released statements on their websites informing customers that they are unable to accept any new applications for wedding insurance due to the outbreak.

‘We have currently suspended new applications for wedding insurance while we assess the impact of travel and public health advice around coronavirus,’ reads the John Lewis Finance website.

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‘If you are an existing customer, we can assure you that your policy remains in place and unchanged.’

According to Rycroft, the government’s advice to reduce social contact, previously listing locations such as pubs, clubs and theatres, was ‘not helpful wording from a legal point of view’.

The government initially told people to avoid these places, prior to instructing their closure, and have since instructed individuals to stay at home, where possible.

‘Be warned that insurance companies might use this vague nuance and argue that despite the government’s suggestions to avoid the aforementioned public spaces, weddings didn't come under its recommended places to avoid,' he says.

Rycroft envisaged that there could be pressure on the government to be more definitive about what constitutes a ‘large gathering’ in the weeks to come.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding social distancing, the Church of England's archbishops wrote to clergy in support of the measures requiring that churches must close both for private worship and public services.

'Sadly, there can be no weddings in church buildings until further notice,' a statement on the organisation's website reads.

The Methodist church and the chief rabbi has also since suspended services.

For any couple in doubt of their cover or their rights in the lead up to their wedding, the lawyer advises them to take legal advice about their specific circumstances such as contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau here.

‘We need to look at every case in isolation,’ he assures coupes. ‘Every case turns on its own facts.’

For anyone due to marry abroad or has a honeymoon booked in the coming months, they are advised to check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to find out further information.

'You most likely also have had to re-arrange, cancel or postpone your international honeymoon,' says celebrity favourite wedding planner Mark Niemierko.

With international travel banned right now, he suggests booking a UK based mini-moon for some R&R time to get over those post wedding blues once the travel restrictions are lifted.

'Not only are you ensuring no honeymoon changes, but you’ll also be supporting the UK hotel industry which has been terribly effected by current events,' he explains.

Will you be covered if you decide to cancel a wedding?

When you make travel arrangements, if you want to cancel your flights or hotel and it’s your decision – not an external party’s – you will not be covered financially. Rycroft says the same measures will usually be applied to wedding plans.

‘If you decide to cancel a wedding, unless a country is banning entry, won’t supply visas or a venue has closed and you won’t be able to go ahead with the event, you will most likely not be covered by insurance,’ he states.

Jane agrees, warning couples not to cancel nor postpone their weddings ‘too early if they can help it’, rather base their decision on government advice as it comes.

a group of people standing in the grass: Coronavirus Weddings © hobo_018 - Getty Images Coronavirus Weddings

‘If a venue is still happy to go ahead but a couple are unsure, it can put couples in difficult situations and possibly incurring financial penalties,’ she says.

Does a postponement act as a cancelation?

For couples who are concerned that a wedding venue or supplier may view a postponement the same as a cancelation, Rycroft wants to reassure them that he believes they are two different things from a legal perspective.

‘When it comes to a situation like we now see ourselves in with Covid-19, we’re into the scope of contract law and considering what is reasonable,’ he explains.

‘For example, if you decide not to go ahead with a wedding because you get “cold feet”, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a couple to lose their wedding deposit. In addition, a venue/supplier might have an argument to demand more than the deposit, depending on how close the cancelation was to the date or charge the agreed amount in full.’

However, he says that if a couple gave a venue or supplier a reasonable amount of notice, ‘say six to nine months warning’ informing them that they want to postpone their big day, it should give the businesses plenty of time to ‘resell’ the date to another couple.

‘This all depends what is reasonable to request. We need to use established practices in cases concerning coronavirus,’ Rycroft adds.

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Holder agrees, noting that if a couple needs to postpone their wedding and he is available on a new date ‘it wouldn’t be deemed a cancelation’.

‘The photography community is very strong and I am a member of a fantastic referral group who if in the unlikely event I was unable to cover a wedding day, a photographer of similar style and competence would photograph the day and they would be edited by myself,’ he adds.

From Jane’s perspective, she’s already looking at new, suitable dates with couples looking to postpone their wedding days at the moment but it’s important to remain fair.

‘We understand that it is a stressful time for couples but try not to take it out on suppliers with harsh demands,’ she says. ‘And bear in mind they will already have a full 2020 calendar at this point with peak dates in 2021 already filling.

‘There needs to be give and take on both sides and realistic expectations of the changes that can be made. Expecting a peak date on a Saturday in August, for example, as a swap with your current wedding date would be very unfair at this current climate. If neither the couple or the photographer can do any new proposed dates then it would come down to that individual photographer’s contract and what they would be willing to offer at such a late stage in the cancellation process.’

What is a variation clause?

It is common in commercial contracts, such as those for weddings, to include a provision that any changes made to the contract are ineffective unless made in writing and signed by or on behalf of both parties.

This is known as a variation clause and is intended to prevent informal or inadvertent oral changes regarding situations such as contract cancelations or terminations.

Heather Stanford of contract template company Stanford Gould outlines on wedding website Love My Dress that sometimes contracts have clauses that deal with postponements.

‘Usually, there are financial consequences of changing or cancelling what you have originally agreed, and those consequences are usually more severe to the paying party the closer to the date they occur,’ Stanford states.

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Coronavirus Weddings © Kondoros Eva Katalin - Getty Images Coronavirus Weddings

‘Given that most wedding suppliers get booked 12 – 18 months ahead of an event it is not unusual to see terms that require full payment, or substantial payment if you cancel within six months or less of the event.’

For a couple wanting to keep their booking with a venue or supplier but change the date of their wedding (note, a variation), Rycroft argues that this would still be there preferred option for both parties rather than a cancelation.

‘For venues and couples that are facing uncertainty, while rescheduling a wedding isn’t ideal, postponement is an attractive issue for both sides. From a business point of view, it shows the venue/supplier has viability because still want to trade with them,' he says.

When is the best time to contact suppliers if you're considering postponing your wedding?

In much the same way that if you were expecting an issue to arise with an upcoming event or travel plans, the best port of call when considering amending details to your wedding day is to contact suppliers and venues as early as possible.

Rycroft told us that immediate action is required if you have concerns about your wedding day.

‘You won’t be the only one with concerns,’ he says. ‘As soon as you can articulate your worries and talk about options with your wedding venue, supplier and external contacts, the better. From a legal point of view, in many cases, the options on how to remedy the situation will narrow down if you leave it too late.’

As someone working in the wedding industry, Lewis advises couples to review their contracts with their photographers and speak to venues to see if they’re willing to go ahead with the wedding.

a plate of food on a table: Coronavirus - Weddings © Martina Lanotte / EyeEm - Getty Images Coronavirus - Weddings

She warns couples to get in touch with suppliers ‘straight away to air their concerns and ask advice’.

‘Remember photographers will be dealing with a great deal of emails at this time, so please be patient and respectful and your photographer will be the same with you,’ she notes.

If you need to make a complaint to your insurance company, do so directly. If the company fails to respond or you are in disagreement with what they say, you can escalate your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman.

As an independent adjudicator, the ombudsman will make the final decision on a claim if you find yourself in a dispute with your insurer.

Do you have to have had a written agreement to amending wedding details?

If you’ve ever seen a legal drama on TV, you’ll know that a contract isn’t solely recognised as such when there’s a document with the word ‘contract’ in big bold letters printed at the top.

‘It’s perfectly possible to have a verbal contract, as long as it’s understood by all parties,’ explains Rycroft. He continues, explaining that they can also be in the form of emails, for example between a client and wedding supplier when ones asks a question and the other answers in agreement to something.

‘The key issue when considering wedding contracts is to take into account what are the terms of the contract, what did the parties understand them to be and how the contract was constructed (meaning what was intended),’ the lawyer explains. ‘The attraction of having a written contract is evidence of what’s agreed.'

Above all, keep a record of everything relating to your wedding so you can check over details if required.

If you have to postpone your wedding until next year, how should you suggest this to a venue?

Many couples will have already gotten in touch with their wedding venues to enquire about changing the date of their big day, perhaps to one later in the year or next year.

Now that we’re several weeks into the government lockdown, most venues will already have protocols and postponement ‘in practice’ policies in place, according to luxury wedding planner Katrina Otter. As a result, if you have a wedding in the coming months, she says that now is the time to send an email to venue coordinators and ‘start an open and honest dialogue about any concerns that you have, postponement policies and potential fees’.

‘Also ask for a selection of dates that are available, should you need to postpone, so that you can run these past family members and your wedding party, followed by key suppliers (including your ceremony),’ she adds.

Niemierko says: ‘Ideally a venue should move your wedding to another date for no additional charge, however if they did incur costs, they should charge those without profit or mark-up.

‘For example Niemierko is running a policy that so long as a wedding is moved within 12 months of the original date there are no additional charges.’

However, bear in mind that coordinators are dealing with extraordinary demands and an unprecedented number of enquiries. They might also be dealing with postponements on a priority basis, for example weddings which were set to take place in April or May.

‘But so far I’ve found that venues are working incredibly hard to be as flexible, understanding and accommodating as possible,’ adds Otter, who has over 15 years experience in the wedding industry.

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‘If you have to postpone then once you’ve agreed on a date with your venue, and as many suppliers as possible, ensure that you get this confirmed in writing, including any changes to payment amounts and / or terms,’ she continues.

Niemierko says that you must consider that if everyone in 2020 moves their wedding to 2021, it will mean a venue will make a loss. ‘Discuss options but be open to alternatives such as a winter wedding instead of summer nuptials, or a Friday ceremony in place of a typical weekend affair,’ he notes.

‘If you don’t yet think that’ll you’ll need to postpone but want peace of mind that you have a contingency in place, then still get in touch with your venue, ask the questions above and see whether it’s possible to put a plan b date on hold, just in case.’

What advice is there for couples wanting a date next year when they could be competing with double the amount of brides and grooms?

Otter says the best piece of advice she can offer is ‘to be as proactive as possible.

‘Get in touch (with your venue and key suppliers) and start that open and honest dialogue as soon as possible, whether that’s putting into action a full postponement plan or at least setting up a contingency plan for peace of mind and then staying in regular contact,’ she says.

a dining room table: Spanish style restaurant with white chairs and tables © PeterPhoto - Getty Images Spanish style restaurant with white chairs and tables

Niemierko adds that many brides and grooms are in the same boat right now, if you are keen to know a date that won’t need to be moved for a second time ‘you need to aim for dates from late Spring 2021, when ideally a vaccine [for the virus] is in place’, he says.

‘Once you have options of various dates from the venue send a blind copy email to all your suppliers to see which dates work best with them, stress that you need to hear back from them as soon as possible. Then lock the new date in,’ he advises.

Should couples be willing to be more flexible or pay more money?

Many couples will know that the majority of wedding venues will already be fully booked for weekend dates later this year and into 2001.

‘As a result, they don’t have the capacity or option to be able to offer key dates,’ explains Otter.

‘Even if venues have availability, they’re also businesses that need to protect themselves and continue operating so understandably many are offering no-fee postponements to weekdays or low-season dates only, with peak dates offered for an additional fee… the same also applies for some suppliers.’

‘If you have your heart set on a certain date and your venue can’t accommodate this (due to availability) or you don’t want to pay the additional fee then the very real reality is that you may have to compromise on your venue (and / or suppliers).’

From Niemierko’s experience, he says that as long as a couple postpone their wedding within a certain time frame, say six to 12 months, of the original planned date then suppliers and venues shouldn’t be charging additional fees.

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However, given the financial impact on many small business in the wedding industry, he suggests considering ‘offering to pay the next instalment of your payment plan earlier if you can.

‘That simple generosity of breaking with the guide of an agreement or terms outline will be so greatly appreciated,’ he says.

If you paid for a Saturday this year but are now having to go for a weekday next year, should you still pay the same amount?

Unfortunately, the answers is that this depends entirely on the venue.

While some might offer reduced rates for weekdays, others might charge the same amount for moth weekend and weekdays but without the no-fee postponement. Otter also says that some have already increased their 2020 v 2021 rates to reflect increased costs, what’s now offered as part of the venue hire etc.), with postponement fees reflecting these changes.

That said, Niemierko adds: ‘There is no harm in discussing and asking your venue should you move your wedding to mid-week if that would save on your budget.’

If some guests are unable to attend your wedding, will you have to pay for them if it goes ahead?

Strictly speaking, if you’ve signed a contract saying you have for example 100 guests needing 100 meals on your wedding day then that is what you pay for.

However, given the circumstances, Rycroft says it’s important to chat to venues and suppliers to explain the difficulties as there might be scope to change the contract.

‘Contracts are set in stone in the sense that you whatever you sign up for, then that’s the deal,’ he says.

‘That said, you can go back before performance of the contract (when the wedding is scheduled to take place) to change details. Whether the other party will agree, depends on the bargaining power of the client. People’s bargaining power is shifting at the moment and there’s nothing to say that a contract can’t be changed if both parties are in agreement.’

Is it the client or vendor's responsibility to strike up a conversation about options during the outbreak?

While there is a duty for venues and suppliers to keep you updated with their changing practices, it’s important for the client to take action and raise any concerns about what might happen.

a woman standing next to a vase of flowers on a table: Coronavirus - Weddings © Jansamon Thongra-Ar / EyeEm - Getty Images Coronavirus - Weddings

‘It comes both ways,’ says Rycroft. ‘People fall back and rely on legal documents and insurance during uncertain times like this. People are more reasonable if you have a conversation as soon as possible – we’re all human. We’re all facing uncertainty.’

Will you be financially covered if you paid for a wedding using a credit card?

Rycroft says that when considering what you’ve covered for financially when considering your wedding date, think about how you paid for certain things like venues and suppliers.

Consumer company Which? explains that under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, ‘a credit card company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the retailer or trader’.

This currently stands for anything bought worth between £100.01 and £30,000 on a credit card.

This means that a credit card company is just as responsible as the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied (in this case, for a wedding), allowing you to also put your claim to the credit card company.

‘If you paid for a venue on your credit card, they go out of business, the venue might not be able to pay, the credit card company should be able to cover you,’ says Rycroft.

According to Which? even if you’ve only paid a deposit and the rest was paid in cash, you're still covered for the whole cost of hiring the venue.

However, it’s important to remember that credit card protection isn’t a substitute for wedding insurance, for example in the cases when someone falls ill or personal liability.

What should couples do if they are worried about their weddings and losing money?

It is an uncertain time for people across the world during the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, when it comes to a wedding day, Rycroft advises couples to have an open conversation with wedding suppliers and venues.

‘They will also be having worries about whether people will go ahead – we’re all in the same boat – so it’s important to see if you can come to some agreement,’ he notes.

‘If you feel unhappy, for any reason, take legal advice. You can always talk with the venue/supplier and take legal counsel before replying and considering all your options.’

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Visit the World Health Organisation website and the NHS website to find out the latest information regarding the coronavirus.

Coronavirus: The 16 major developments that happened on Wednesday .
Here’s what you need to know on 15 July. This article was updated at 3pm. Deaths: Two people have died with coronavirus in Wales. Scotland recorded the seventh day with no coronavirus deaths. There were no new deaths in Northern Ireland. Scientists at Cambridge University predict there will be between 45 and 85 daily deaths with coronavirus by the end of July. The model predicts that the East of England is likely to have the highest rate of infections, ahead of London and the Midlands. Read more here. Policy: Face coverings could be mandatory until a coronavirus vaccine has been found, the health secretary has suggested.

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This is interesting!