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Weddings, parties, everything cancelled - are you entitled to a refund?

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Couples across Australia are having to postpone, cancel or vastly downsize their weddings after strict new social distancing rules were announced on March 24, and the couples themselves aren't the only ones missing out.

Dressmakers, venue staff, caterers, chauffeurs, florists and photographers and videographers are watching their livelihood disappear, and with no reprieve in sight.

Couturier Santina Porpiglia from Collezione Santina says her business took a hit as soon as gatherings were limited to 100 people. Catering to weddings, balls, red carpet events, her work dried up immediately.

coronavirus weddings cancelled

"Texts started arriving instantly to cancel appointments from clients who had been travelling and are in self isolation, and those whose weddings have been postponed," Porpiglia says.

"We exist on a payment per fitting program and as soon as they cancelled, our payments stopped.

"We're out of pocket because we've put time and fabric costs into it already."

Right now, Porpiglia says she can't continue to work.

"We can only try to encourage people whose weddings are at the end of the year and may be affected to make their appointments earlier in the year," she says.

"Small businesses like ours don't have six months of rent sitting in a bank and we have $1000 in fixed costs every week without any staffing costs."

People buying vouchers to use later in the year or give as gifts can be helpful to small businesses such as hers, she says.

"We live fortnight by fortnight," she says.

Caitlin Chapman and Michael Eckstein had planned an April 11 wedding with 150 guests in Woolwich.

"At first we weren't sure what would happen but as the restrictions were getting harder and harder we've had to postpone everything," Chapman says.

"When the restriction of 100 was announced we had to make a call; at first we thought we could do it by culling numbers but it just didn't feel appropriate to have a big celebration."

The couple are still considering finding a celebrant and getting married on their original date then having a big party next January, but they're not sure if that will be possible at this stage.

"Vendors have been good - the venue gave us new available dates, according to the dates of other weddings cancelled," Chapman says.

"We had a DJ which we had to postpone but we're hoping they can still do the reception party, also a florist which we haven't managed to connect with yet, to still do mini ceremony whenever that is and also do the reception party, and celebrant."

Her fiance says the situation is evolving so quickly it's difficult to plan anything.

"Less than a month ago everything was on track and we paid final deposits two weeks ago and there was only a few cases of coronavirus," Eckstein says.

Chapman and Eckstein also had to cancel their honeymoon to the Maldives.

"We're still lucky we have each other," Chapman says.

Matt Penske* and his fiancee's wedding was slated for May 9. Both Croatian, it was to be a large celebration with 350 guests.

It had taken six months of planning and $15,000 in deposits.

Penske says he knew they would have to cancel their wedding as soon as gatherings of 100 and more were banned.

"We've had to shift all suppliers to be aligned with a date later in the year," Penske says.

"We're currently looking at December because our chosen venue was closing for good at the end of the year."

This meant other suppliers had to work in with that date.

"We were lucky in a way that things lined up, the only things that didn't line up were the original band and MC and everything else we could work around - if it goes ahead in December," Penske says.

"We had to deal with limos, cake maker, two bands, a DJ, MC for the reception, church service and florist."

The couple also had to cancel their honeymoon to Europe.

"I was able to get refunds on those because it was far enough out and the one that had no cancellation policy allowed us to change because of the pandemic," Penske says.

"If by December a wedding is still not an option then we will go to church and get married without a reception.

"Our key focus now is to save and buy a property together, that's our focus. We've planned the wedding stuff so we can start a family."

So are couples entitled to refunds for their changed plans?

A spokesperson for the ACCC says if your wedding is cancelled due to government restrictions it will affect your rights under the consumer guarantees, however, you may be entitled to a refund of your deposit under the terms and conditions of your booking.

She recommends contacting the venue directly to request a refund or other remedy, such as a credit note to postpone your wedding to a later date. 

"You may also have rights under contract law where the contract can no longer be performed," she says.

"The ACCC encourages all businesses to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances."

Because of the unique nature of the current situation, if a wedding has been cancelled or reduced in size the ACCC spokesperson says you should first approach the provider of each service to see if they are prepared to offer a refund or other remedy, such as credit note or voucher.

"A refund of your deposit will depend on the terms and conditions of your booking with each vendor," she says.

People who want to return an un-worn wedding dress or shoes because they no longer need them are not entitled to a refund under the Australian Consumer Law.

"Under the Australian Consumer Law, you are only entitled to a remedy if your product fails to meet a consumer guarantee," the ACCC spokesperson says.

*not his real name

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance, which will be out in April. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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