With this policy, I thee wed

As costs rise, vow to insure your big day. Sam Dunn reports

With the average wedding costing £11,000 by the time you've hired the reception venue and paid for the outfits, flowers and honeymoon, it isn't unromantic to ensure that no part of the big day is left to chance.

With the average wedding costing £11,000 by the time you've hired the reception venue and paid for the outfits, flowers and honeymoon, it isn't unromantic to ensure that no part of the big day is left to chance.

With costs rising, the take-up of wedding insurance is becoming more wide- spread as couples consider the possibility of a sudden illness forcing them to call off the ceremony, or a double-booking at their reception venue, or caterers letting them down at the last minute. In the event of such disasters, they should at least be able to recoup some of the costs.

Research from Churchill Insurance confirms that planning a wedding is second only to buying a house in the stress stakes. Mike Ramsay, Churchill's wedding specialist, says the most common claims on insurance policies are for the loss of rings before the service, for stained and torn wedding dresses, and for double-booked venues.

Many insurers don't offer this type of cover. The best way to find those that do is via the internet or the adverts at the back of wedding magazines.

Andrew Hale runs wedding-service. co.uk, which offers an insurance package in association with the Manchester broker Hine. Premiums are payable as a one-off fee of between £48 and £125. The standard plan offers cover of up to £5,000 for cancellation of the ceremony; up to £2,000 for damage to outfits; up to £1,500 for damage to, or loss of, the wedding video or photographs; and up to £1,000 for loss of wedding rings.

Although marriage is on the decline, 286,100 couples took the plunge in 2001, and insurers are beginning to realise that there are plenty of rich pickings to be had in this market. "[Wedding insurance] is not a price-sensitive product because people just want to make sure their big day goes well," says Stephen Bradley, director at broker UKinsurancenet, which processes between 50 and 75 applications each month.

Marks & Spencer Financial Services (M&SFS) set up its own wedding insurance service in February 2002 and allows customers to buy policies instore or online. (It also offers the services of a stress counsellor via a telephone hotline.) There are four levels of cover, with premiums costing from £54 to £185.

"The average claim is for about £2,000 but claims range from as little as £15 to £20,000," says Liz Neild, spokeswoman for M&SFS. "Our most frequent claim is for damage to outfits - red wine stains and hats being crushed. Contract disputes are common, too, where the photographer might fail to turn up."

M&SFS is one of five recommended wedding insurance brokers on the website wedding-insurance-options.co.uk, which also lists Ecclesiastical, E&L Insurance, RK Shipman and Alder Broker Group. The website allows you to compare policies and find the deal that suits you best.

Another factor behind the rising popularity of marriage insurance is the trend towards unusual wedding locations. UKinsurancenet's Mr Bradley believes that couples who do something different are more likely to insure their big day.

While you can insure against nearly all eventualities, there is one that cannot be covered. Mr Hale of wedding-service.co.uk warns: "Getting cold feet is not insured for, and neither is one of the couple running off with somebody else. Essentially, the only thing you cannot insure for is a change of mind."

The top 10 claims

* Wedding attire damaged.

* Retaking of wedding photos.

* Cancellation due to an illness or bereavement in the immediate family.

* Caterers failing to turn up at reception.

* Wedding rings lost.

* Wedding transport failing to turn up.

* Cancellation due to venue being double-booked.

* Public liability and property damage.

* Wedding presents lost or stolen.

* Food/car suppliers going out of business.

Source: E&L Insurance

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