Money: If a wedding goes wrong, they'll pay

Emma Simon reports on insurance policies for the big day
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The Independent Online
MANY of us will have been relieved to have received a cheap and cheerful card and a box of chocolates on Valentine's Day. But many others will have taken the opportunity to pop the big question: "Will you marry me?"

Around 400,000 couples will get married this year. The average wedding now costs pounds 10,000 and rising. With such a financial commitment - and with 40 per cent of couples paying the costs themselves - it is perhaps unsurprising that insurers should start sniffing around for business.

Presently one in 20 weddings are insured, typically at a cost of pounds 50 or less (see box). Insurers have paid out many thousands of pounds for ripped and ruined bridal dresses, stolen presents, lost rings and dropped cakes, and for cars, caterers and photographers that failed to turn up. Insurers will also pay out costs should the wedding be cancelled or delayed. This generally covers the bride or groom or a close family members falling ill or dying. Cornhill Insurance has paid out for brides who developed chicken pox the day before the ceremony, and even for the results of stag night disasters.

Sharon Curd, of Cornhill, says: "We have had grooms turn up at the church in an ambulance with legs in plaster before now. If this causes the wedding to be postponed then the policy will pay out."

Most insurers offered to pay rescheduling costs for couples who had planned to marry on the day of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Stephen Thorley, of Wedding Plan, says his company had a number of claims, including one wedding where the route to the church followed Diana's funeral route.

But be sure to check the small print: cancellation has to be for reasons "beyond the policy holder's control". This means that everyone's ultimate nightmare, being jilted at the altar, is unfortunately excluded from all wedding insurance policies. However, Cornhill Insurance has recently added cover for professional counselling for brides and grooms who are left standing at the altar. Doug Lee, an underwriter at the company, says: "Some of our policy holders are in tears on the telephone when they phone to tell us that the wedding is off."

Cornhill offers policy holders up to pounds 250 towards counselling if their wedding is cancelled for any reason. But other insurance experts dismiss this as "gimmicky". "If you've just been jilted I don't think a couple of half-hour sessions with a counsellor will make that much difference," said one industry spokesman.

Planning a wedding can be tricky and takes time. Hotels demand deposits, and popular venues are often booked up 12 months ahead. Similarly, caterers, cake makers and bridal hire shops generally ask for money up front. It is easy to spend pounds 1,000 months before the day arrives. Many wedding insurance policies have been set up specifically to protect these deposits and expenses.

Brian King, a spokesman for Ecclesiastical Insurance, says: "These businesses all too often go bust, leaving the couple out of pocket. We will reimburse this money and pay the costs of rescheduling the wedding if an alternative venue cannot be found at short notice." Wedding insurance will also cover public liability, which will protect the bride and groom should they be sued for negligence.

In one case covered by Methodist Insurance, the lights in the marquee failed, causing a panic. In the confusion one caterer ended up in hospital after tripping over a barbecue in the dark. As it was the bride's father who rigged up the faulty lighting he could have been sued, but fortunately the insurance paid out.

Insurance will also pay for any damage caused by the wedding party to the reception venue or marquee. "We have seen some pretty over-enthusiastic dancing before now," says Ron Barnet, product development manager at Methodist Insurance.

Although most claims are made for more ordinary mishaps, like red wine down the bridal grown or bungled photographs, insurers have paid out for a fair number of less routine disasters. It is not only the bride who is nervous at the wedding. Cornhill recently paid a claim after one young bridesmaid, racked with nerves, was sick on the bride's dress while the happy couple were walking down the aisle. Wedding Plan's Stephen Thorley recalls how a Carlisle couple turned up at the church in a couple of borrowed runabouts after the hired Aston Martins picked up the wrong bride. Not only did the insurers reimburse the car hire but they paid for the photographs to be restaged at a later date."Fortunately, everyone was able to see the funny side afterwards," says Mr Thorley.

q Clark Conway, a London-based independent financial adviser (IFA), has produced a free factsheet on financial issues for couples moving in together. Call 0500 000120.

The bitter troth

Top 10 wedding day disasters

1 Bride's dress ruined.

2 Wedding photographs fail to come out.

3 Cancellation due to illness of bride or groom.

4 The caterers fail to turn up at the reception.

5 The wedding rings are lost.

6 Wedding presents are lost or stolen.

7 The reception venue closes before the big day.

8 Wedding transport company goes out of business.

9 The video cameraman does not turn up.

10 The hired marquee is damaged.

Source: Cornhill Insurance

Wedding insurance policies

Cornhill Insurance (contact Jackson Emms insurance brokers on 0118 957 5491): Weddinsurance, pounds 47.80 for pounds 2,500 of cover.*

Ecclesiastical (0800 336622): Right Wedding, pounds 40 for pounds 3,000 of cover.

Methodist Insurance (0161 833 9696): Wedding Insurance, from pounds 40 for pounds 3,000 of cover.

Wedding Plan (underwritten by UK Insurance, 01603 767699): pounds 49 for pounds 6,000 of cover.

Insurex Expo-Sure (01892 511500): pounds 100 for pounds 10,000 of cover.

*This sum covers the cost of restaging the wedding following cancellation or postponement. Additional cover can be bought from all insurers.