On 14 June 2021, the Prime Minister announced a four-week pause to the planned easing of restrictions targeted for 21 June 2021 pursuant to the Roadmap of 22 February 2021. It is expected that England will move to Step 4 on 19 July 2021, though the data will be reviewed in two weeks in case the risks have reduced. This means capacity restrictions for sports, pubs and cinemas will remain, and nightclubs will stay closed until then. However, some restrictions will change on 21 June 2021, including the rules on the number of people who can attend a wedding or civil partnership celebration. In this update, we consider the new rules, what social distancing at a wedding means and the consequential effect on wedding contracts.
What will be permitted now?
From 21 June, the rules on the number of people that can attend a wedding or civil partnership (including wedding receptions or civil partnership celebrations) will change. The 30-guest restriction will be lifted, instead capacity will be subject to the implementation of social distancing requirements. As a result, the number of people that can attend these events in a Covid-Secure venue or other venues (such as a garden of a private home) will be determined by how many people a venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place, including guests of all ages (inclusive of children) and anyone working at the event.
What does social distancing at a wedding mean?
A marquee or other structure in a private garden of a private home must have at least 50% of its walled area open at any time to be classed as “outdoors”, and for the limit based on safe capacity to apply.
Inside private homes, and in enclosed structures in gardens of private homes, weddings can only be held for up to 6 people or 2 households, except in the case of an urgent marriage where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover. In this circumstance, up to 30 people are permitted in a private dwelling.
Other social distancing measures at a wedding include:
— a ban on singing and dancing, except for the couples’ first dance
— face coverings
— a maximum of 6 people per table with receptions having table service only.
For weddings of more than 30 people, all venues (including those in gardens or private homes or on private land) must carry out a risk assessment to determine how many attendees will be able to attend, and follow Government guidance to make the event as safe as possible.
The Health and Safety Executive and local authorities have the power to enforce the Covid rules against weddings and events venues and organisers where social distancing is not being adhered to. It is also easy to predict a scenario where drunken guests are rude to staff who challenge their singing and dancing resulting in an increase in the number of attacks and abuse to staff. You can read our previous article on how to try and handle this here.
What does this mean for wedding contracts?
The need for social distancing measures and the limit on singing and dancing may cause the couple serious concern, leading to questions about whether they want to go ahead with the wedding as planned – or not. But can the contract be changed for this reason?
In the continued absence of a test case between venues, couples and, without doubt, their insurers (similar to the previous position faced by many businesses regarding business interruption insurance), some venues and engaged couples in England are facing uncertainty amidst these concerns.
It is important to keep in mind that no party is at fault here. Wedding venues and engaged couples want the wedding to go ahead with the number of guests originally envisaged. It is therefore in all parties’ interests to find a way forward despite the unpredictable situation.
In response to Prime Minister’s announcement that weddings can go ahead without a limit on numbers but subject to social distancing requirements, here are some of the questions that venues need to ask to consider their position:
— How many guests are booked for the wedding? Can you accommodate that number allowing for social distancing measures? If you cannot cater for the full amount of planned guests, will the couple go ahead with the maximum safe number of guests for your venue?
— Does the couple want to go ahead with a wedding subject to social distancing requirements, i.e. no singing or dancing; and limited to table service for up to 6 guests per table? What happens if they do not want this?
— If the couple wishes to change the date due to social distancing requirements / the effect on guest numbers, are you able to re-book the wedding for a later date based on your availability? If not, where does this leave you?
We have a stellar reputation in advising businesses within the hospitality sector, including wedding venues. We already act for a number of these venues advising them in respect of their position with a detailed knowledge of the law and other issues. If you are a wedding venue that has received multiple claims from customers in respect of postponed or cancelled weddings due to the latest announcement or need help understanding what “social distancing” at a wedding means or responding to any enforcement, we can help.