What should you do if your wedding could be cancelled?
[Editor’s note: The information contained in this article was correct at the time of publication; now the government has stopped all non-essential leaving the house and only permits trips for food or medication or travelling to work as a key worker. The Church of England had previously said only five people, including the bride and groom, may be present at Anglican ceremonies.]
The outbreak of coronavirus is having an ever-increasing impact on people’s daily lives.
As we approach spring, those who have organised weddings in the coming months will undoubtedly be feeling uncertain as to whether their nuptials will be able to go ahead, whether they are taking place in the UK or abroad.
Several firms, including John Lewis Finance, Debenhams, Wedding Plan Insurance and Emerald Life have released statements on their websites informing customers that due to the coronavirus outbreak, they are unable to accept any new applications for wedding insurance.
On the John Lewis Finance website, it states: “We have currently suspended new applications for wedding insurance while we assess the impact of travel and public health advice around coronavirus.
“If you are an existing customer, we can assure you that your policy remains in place and unchanged.”
The Debenhams statement follows the same sentiment, adding that the company made the decision to suspend new wedding insurance applications “as a result of the information currently being provided by the World Health Organisation”.
As can be expected, the news that many insurers are no longer taking applications for wedding cover has thrown a spanner in the works for many betrothed couples’ plans.
“Anxiety dreams that we have to postpone the wedding due to coronavirus so looking at insurance, and most of the insurers have stopped issuing quotes,” one person tweeted.
The Independent spoke to lawyer Steve Wardlaw, who co-founded insurance company Emerald Life.
Wardlaw explained that as the coronavirus outbreak is “a very new event”, insurance companies don’t yet have a fixed idea of “how much risk they’ll be taking”.
“People are trying to stay in the market as long as possible but they have different appetites for risk, which is why sometimes people pull out earlier than others,” he said.
Wardlaw outlined that the majority of wedding insurers in the market would cover existing policy holders if the wedding couple, their close relatives or their wedding venue experience an issue specifically to do with coronavirus.
However, in the event that a wedding were cancelled because of a new law that banned large groups from assembling, Emerald Life would not be able to provide cover because the wording of their policy “expressly excludes liability arising from a change in law or change in regulation”.
As is demonstrated in this example, for couples who are due to get married who already have wedding insurance, it is of the utmost importance that they read the fine print of their existing contracts with both their wedding insurance provider and their wedding suppliers, Wardlaw stated.
“It’s worth spending a bit of time now looking at the contracts with the venue or with the supplier, because they may not have an exclusion in the contract saying they have a right not to perform in the case of coronavirus,” he said.
“The best thing to do is to call. Call up and find out. Most good insurers should now have a specific note on their wedding pages that outlines what’s covered and what isn’t covered.”
Wardlaw explained that if a couple is told by their venue that their wedding cannot be held due to coronavirus, the venue may be liable for damages “unless there is a specific exclusion” in the contract detailing why the ceremony cannot take place.
However, he added that it is important that couples be “practical”, especially if their situation may not abate over the coming months.
“What’s the point of stamping your feet if you think you’ll have another three months of this? It’s painful but maybe organise it a different time,” he said.
Liz Taylor, CEO of event planning company The Taylor Lynn Corporation, told The Independent that it may be “impossible to secure insurance for what comes under a force majeure clause; which is where coronavirus fits in insurance terms”.
Legal website Lexology outlines the definition of force majeure, stating: “In contract law, force majeure refers to exceptional events which prevent or hinder the performance of an obligation.”
“This is when one of the reasons that an event cannot go ahead is due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control,” Taylor said.
“There are no reimbursement for deposits paid on venues and no insurance cover to protect against this.”
So is it possible for couples who are planning on getting married in the next few months to obtain wedding insurance? It is unfortunately not likely, Wardlaw stated.
“If they can’t get it they can’t get it. Even if you are in the stage of talking to people, and even if you have a quote, if the cover is no longer available, we can’t sell cover that isn’t there. So holding onto a quote, that gives you some cover as long as the product is still for sale,” he said.
“Make sure you don’t miss the boat, but if you have missed the boat, there isn’t much we can do about it.”
While Wardlaw admitted there isn’t a minimum amount of time before a wedding that a couple can obtain insurance, he said that Emerald Life often provides insurance for couples once they start incurring expenses, which can happen when sorting out their venue more than a year in advance.
For couples who are due to marry abroad in the near future, it is advised that they check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to look into whether it has been deemed safe for them to still go to the country they were planning on travelling to.
Bernadette Chapman, owner of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, outlined a number of precautions people who are planning weddings can put into place in order to reassure themselves and their guests amid the coronavirus outbreak.
These include contacting suppliers and guests to check whether those in attendance have visited affected countries within the last 14 days, checking that any guests who may be more vulnerable are still comfortable attending the event and potentially establishing a rule not to kiss the wedded couple.
While everything remains uncertain in the current climate, it is important not to panic and to take the necessary steps of speaking to your wedding suppliers and your insurance provider, if you have one.
Once you have a clearer understanding of where you stand in the event of your wedding being postponed, then you can figure out the possibility of rescheduling your nuptials for a later date.
If you have any coronavirus symptoms or have recently travelled to an affected area, contact the NHS helpline on 111 and do not visit your GP or hospital.