Vow to cover your costs

Weddings can set us back by pounds 9,000. Tom Tickell looks at the case for insurance One wedding and an insurance policy
THE morning-after pill provides wedding insurance of a kind - against the need for a shotgun marriage. Demand rose by 50 per cent in Dublin after Valentine's Day was immediately followed by the Ireland-England rugby match, and one or two clinics ran out of supplies.

Spring marks the start of the wedding season - Valentine's Day is still a highly popular time for popping the question - but anyone considering real wedding insurance should be similarly aware of its limitations.

It does not cover you against getting married - just against some of the costs if things go wrong.

The old tax advantages to marrying before the end of the fiscal year have long since gone but the cost of weddings continues to horrify. The average figure is close on pounds 9,000, according to statistics carried in Wedding and Home magazine last year, and it has certainly gone up since then. The sky can be the limit with a white wedding and smart reception in the South- east.

If all goes well, the cost of a wedding may seem money well spent. But any number of things can go wrong. If they do, it can cause financial as well as personal heartache.

Fewer than 20 per cent of couples take out wedding insurance, according to a survey conducted earlier this year. Researchers found that people assumed it would cost between pounds 80 and pounds 100, whereas policies from two of the leading insurers - Ecclesiastical and Cornhill - cost pounds 36 and pounds 46 respectively.

All policies cover cancellation, if illness or death in the family forces people to postpone the wedding, or the bride or bridegroom loses their job in the run-up to the marriage.

Insurers will also pay out if the hotel for the reception is damaged or double-booked, or the priest or photographer fails to appear, and policies even cover the risk of claims for food poisoning. People can also claim for loss or damage to the wedding clothes - brides' dresses in particular.

"One couple had to postpone their wedding after the bride's five-year- old brother tried out his poster paints on her wedding dress," says Mark Bishop, of Cornhill. "Another potential husband and wife failed to become a couple because both were in the forces and posted overseas a few weeks before they were due to tie the knot."

The insurers cherish disaster stories. One bride had to arrive at her wedding on a tractor because the car-hire company whose Rolls-Royce was supposed to take her had gone bust. The odds against your photographer failing to turn up because terrorists have hijacked his car are very long. But it has happened.

All the main policies are cheap, but the potential payouts are distinctly limited. Most will not pay out more than pounds 2,500 for cancellation. You can raise the limits, but costs rise sharply if you do. Doubling the normal limit to pounds 5,000 just on cancellation or postponement will lift the cost of the Cornhill policy from pounds 46 to pounds 117, for instance.

What is more, the benefits can be much less attractive than they look. Insurers will usually pay up to pounds 1,000 if wedding presents are lost or stolen - worth

having even if the figure is low. But Cornhill and Ecclesiastical will only pay out if thieves take the gifts in the 24 hours before the marriage, or they are stolen at the reception. Most policies will pay up to pounds 500 for a ring, but compensation will only be triggered if it is stolen within seven days of the wedding. It makes sense to keep presents and wedding rings with one set of parents, who can then get an extension of their contents policy.

There is one risk no one will take on; if the bride or bridegroom gets cold feet before the wedding and calls it off, parents will just have to write off the bills. Ingenious fraudsters could probably find a way of beating the system if they didn't - or so the companies claim.

Some events are so bizarre that even insurers do not allow for them in the endless detail of their policies. When Rodney Earnshaw and Shirley Wilson heard a young priest proclaiming them man and wife at St John's in Huddersfield earlier this year, they assumed they were married. Alas, the vicar who was meant to marry them was late - and an 18-year-old on work experience had decided to fill in for him by conducting the service. That ensured the marriage was invalid - and the couple are suing the Church of England.

Would wedding insurance have covered them? Technically not, but insurers claim they would probably have paid out - if only in the interests of good public relations.

With all the potential hazards, it seems extraordinary that the vast majority of weddings go through without a hitch. Basic wedding insurance is certainly cheap, but potential payouts are relatively low and conditions can be extremely restrictive. That said, for all the caveats, it might make a decent engagement present.

q Contacts: Cornhill Insurance, 01483 68161; Ecclesiastical Insurance, 01452 528533; Jackson Emms, 01734 575491; Insurex Expo-Sure, 01892 511500; DJ Hine, 01204 385411.