Over the past few weeks I have been asked a number of questions regarding refunds etc from suppliers as a consumer. Whilst it seems the majority of companies who deal with consumers across the UK have been flexible, there are a number of consumers who find themselves in battles trying to get their money back.
Events such as music festivals and weddings are being cancelled up and down the country due to the government banning any gatherings of more than two people (with the exception of funerals) to limit the spread of coronavirus.
I am sure I am not in the minority who has purchased some kind of ticket for upcoming live events such as music concerts or football. So far with the exception of a football game I was meant to attend in March, my theatre trip has been postponed to September, my tickets to see Dua Lipa has been postponed to January and the music festival in Malta has issued a full refund. Both of the UK events gave me the option to cancel for refund if the new dates were not convenient.
If you purchased directly from the event organiser or primary ticket retailers (such as Ticketmaster) you will be protected by some consumer law. Tickets purchased any other way will be a little trickier, especially if you purchased them from a guy down the pub.
When planning a wedding there is a lot to think about, not just the venue, but the entertainment, the food, the photographer. All of these services generally are purchased separately meaning multiple different contracts going on. Since the governmental action has been in force this has forced weddings to be cancelled or postponed.
Prior to this, if you cancelled and it was your decision you have less protection and rights and the same measures would apply regarding cancellation charges. E.g If you cancelled a few weeks before the date, due to no longer wishing to get married this would not be the same as giving notice of 6 months or so for example. Any cancellation charges should be reasonable and with 6 months notice it is likely they could resell the date therefore ensuring that the supplier were not financially effected by the cancellation.
If you do have upcoming wedding you must wait for them to cancel first, (much as the same with holidays). However, the best thing to do is to contact your suppliers and try and reach a mutual decision of postponing the date. It’s seems whilst the majority are acting compassionately and being flexible, there are the small minority who are trying to profit through the coronavirus disruption. If a new date is agreed make sure this is in writing along with anything else you have agreed.
The Competition and Markets Authority has previously warned the wedding sector that excessive cancellation charges, even when contracts had been signed, are not legally binding the BBC reports. This confirms my above point about any cancellation charges must be reasonable.
I have seen businesses claim that they didn’t have a force majeure clause in their contracts and therefore the customer has no right to refund. Even without a force majeure clause the common law doctrine of frustration would provide the ability to discharge any obligations if those obligations become physically or commercially impossible to perform. A force majeure clause is potentially unfair under consumer law, particularly if a trader obtains an unfair windfall or benefit from invoking the clause. Hanging on to any money already paid in circumstances where the event did not go ahead, is likely to be viewed as unfair. As a result it would normally be advisable for businesses relying on force majeure when cancelling an event or services, to be prepared to issue a full or partial refund to their customers. Even if this is postponed and the new dates are not convenient or the service is no longer needed (beauty treatments for example) then I would still argue it is unfair to keep hold of any money that has already been paid. Further if businesses treat their customers fairly now they are more likely to return when all is safe and legal to do so rather than leaving them angry and frustrated now.
I will summarise CMA’s general views about how the law operates in this area.
However my views on this are whilst yes you are more than likely be legally allowed to obtain a refund if it is for a service you know you will still want once restrictions are lifted and it doesn’t put you out of pocket please consider small businesses who would potentially be put out of business if all of their customers requested a refund.
If your claim is refused you should contact your insurance company (if you have wedding insurance) or in terms of events contact your bank. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act gives consumers additional protection should something go wrong. If you paid by credit card for something worth more than £100 and less than £30,000 you can claim your money back through that. If you paid by debit card there is a process called chargeback which isn’t a right or guarantee but it is a way your bank may be able to help.
There are many different scenarios occurring in these unprecedented times and if you have any questions at all please feel free to contact us here at BEB and we will do our best to assist.