Will weddings go ahead in summer 2021?

As Boris Johnson unveils his lockdown roadmap, should those with wedding dates originally planned for the summer - or postponed from 2020 - still be optimistic? Natasha Preskey finds out

Tuesday 23 March 2021 09:41 GMT
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Last year was full of heartbreak for brides and grooms to be. Due to constantly changing coronavirus restrictions, many were faced with the tough choice of whether to cut their guest list or postpone or cancel their wedding altogether.

Throughout 2020, it felt like those who had planned to get married in 2021 might have made a lucky call but, as the summer wedding season approached (May to September are the most popular months in the UK), it seemed increasingly uncertain. Not only for those who originally planned to wed this year, but also for those who postponed once already.

Under current lockdown restrictions, weddings and civil partnerships are only permitted under “exceptional circumstances” (such as one partner being terminally ill). Even in these situations, wedding parties can only include six people.

But on 22 February, Boris Johnson announced a roadmap, that includes lifting restrictions on weddings, if coronavirus cases continue to fall and the vaccine rollout continues to go as planned. So what should couples be expecting now?

What is the latest update?

On Monday 22 February, Boris Johnson told the commons that the lockdown roadmap would begin with some gradual easing at the start of March.

The first date for wedding planners to be aware of is 12 April - on this date the government hopes to allow weddings of up to 15 people to begin again in England. Although this will be contigent on five weeks of positive movement since the previous update (step one) on 8 March.

Then, no earlier than 17 May, the government would like to increase this number to 30 people at weddings.

Read more: Lockdown roadmap - what is reopening and when?

However these changes are contingent on meeting Mr Johnson’s “four tests” which include the continued success of vaccine rollout, no increase in hospitalisations, as well as vaccines reducing deaths, and information about new variants not changing the assessment of risk.

What has the government said prior to 22 February?

Back in December 2020, prior to the third national lockdown, Boris Johnson said he was hopeful that weddings would be able to go ahead in summer 2021.

Read more: Lockdown roadmap: What is reopening and when?

He said: "My hope is by summer it really will be a different world for the weddings and events industry. I hope that your potential customers will be full of confidence and optimism as well and will be getting hitched in the normal way. I think you should be able to plan for a much more active summer and lots of happy nuptial events all over the UK."

But industry experts say customers who had plans for spring weddings are already cancelling, and summer ones are being thrown into doubt.

“The vast majority of couples who were planning April and May weddings have already decided to postpone”

Tamryn Settle

Tamryn Settle, campaign manager of #WhatAboutWeddings, a group which advocates for couples and the wedding industry, tells The Independent: “The vast majority of couples who were planning April and May weddings have already decided to postpone because they had no information and no confidence in the publication of ‘the plan’” 

“Businesses are also reporting that summer couples are now also losing confidence,” she continues.

Settle says that couples and businesses, in particular, are “on tenterhooks” ahead of the PM’s roadmap announcement and she is urging the government to provide clear information on what the rules are likely to be. “For weddings to go ahead in any form this summer, we need a roadmap to a safe reopening and we need to know what restrictions will be in place and what the conditions will be for easing these further,” she says.

A group of 13 senior Tory MPs, led by Esther McVey and Philip Davies, who tied the knot in September, also wrote to Boris Johnson on Valentine’s Day weekend, calling for Covid-secure weddings to be permitted from March, and for totally normal ceremonies to be allowed from 1 May. 

When asked by The Independent about the likelihood of weddings being reinstated this summer, the Department of Health and Social Care said it was unable to comment on future announcements on Covid restrictions. 

When do experts think that weddings will be permitted again?

Experts think we’re unlikely to see weddings with large guestlists this summer (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Pranav Bhanot, head of wedding litigation at Meaby & Co Solicitors and founder of The Wedding Lawyer, believes it is possible that small weddings will make a comeback this summer but says it’s unlikely that we’ll see the full-size weddings we were used to pre-Covid. 

“I believe weddings will continue to look and feel very different to what couples may have expected of their weddings at the time of entering into the contract,” he says.

Bhanot explains that we’re likely to see limited guest numbers and there may also be restrictions on food service (no more buffets) and loud music (singing and shouting have been linked to increased transmission risk).  

Similarly, a spokesperson for wedding industry body the National Association of Professional Wedding Services tells The Independent that we could see very small weddings of up to 15 guests permitted over the next couple of months, and events with 30-40 guests by mid-summer. 

“It might be that guests will need to prove that they have been vaccinated or have recently tested negative in order to attend,” the spokesperson added. “It’s a small price to pay.”

Although no such plans have been confirmed, Boris Johnson has suggested that quick-turnaround lateral flow tests could be used by venues such as nightclubs when they reopen.

In terms of vaccinating wedding guests, almost 16 million people have received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, and over half a million people have received both doses. The government aims to offer a vaccine to all nine priority groups by May and all adults by September.

But even once people are vaccinated, there is still uncertainty about whether this reduces transmission or just stops people becoming seriously ill if they do contract the virus - so an occasion such as a wedding could potentially still be a spreading event, even if people are vaccinated. It isn’t clear whether or not nationwide vaccination will mean an automatic green light for big weddings.

Read more: How effective will the coronavirus vaccine be at reducing the spread of Covid-19?

Should I postpone my wedding again?

Bhanot advises waiting for the next government announcement on 22 February before making any decisions. If couples do wish to postpone their wedding for a future date, he suggests considering how well their suppliers are doing financially, and trying to ascertain whether they will still be trading in future months. “Any agreement to postpone should be carefully and clearly set out in an agreement or email,” he adds. 

Wedding planner Ella Hartig advises couples to think about whether a micro-wedding is a viable option for them this year, followed by a bigger celebration in future. “If couples are set on enjoying the wedding just as they envisaged it, with no restrictions, it is likely they’ll need to postpone to 2022,” she says.  

If you are thinking about postponing, Hartig recommends contacting your suppliers and asking if they can provisionally put a 2022 date on hold for you, while still keeping your 2021 date booked. She emphasises that it’s important to be “open, honest and understanding” with suppliers, and suggests offering to let them know your decision on the postponement in a specified amount of time (e.g. two weeks or a month).

Hartig warns that, due to a raft of festive 2020 proposals and the number of weddings which have already been postponed, competition for wedding dates in 2022 is likely to be high. She advises making enquiries sooner rather than later.

Should I book a new wedding this year?

If you’d been considering making a new booking for this year, Bhanot warns that this could be a risky move.

“I believe, given the amount of uncertainty this year, couples may wish to hold off entering into contracts for weddings in 2021 unless the contract gives them the flexibility to move their dates without incurring costs or arbitrarily restricting the dates for a postponement in the future,” he says.

What’s the situation with wedding insurance?

Bhanot and Hartig advise always contacting your insurance provider before making any decisions about cancelling your big day, as every insurance contract is different. 

“If the wedding cannot go ahead because of government guidance, say we are in a lockdown, then this is more likely to be covered than if you choose to cancel due to disinclination,” says Hartig, adding that it’s more important than ever to read the small print of your policy.

On top of taking out wedding insurance, the wedding planner also encourages her clients to pay suppliers using a credit card. If a business collapses and you do not receive the service you paid for, your credit card company can assist with getting you a refund under Section 75 laws.  

“One of my brides did not receive a wedding dress she had paid for, as the store she bought it from shut down,” Hartig says. “Fortunately, she paid by credit card and under Section 75 she was able to receive a full refund on the purchase.”

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