Two brides say a hotel is withholding their deposits after their wedding plans were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lauren Stewart was due to marry Ryan Craig on May 30 this year after booking their dream spring wedding at the Leighinmohr House Hotel in Ballymena.
And Kiri Bruce, 27, was due to marry Ben McClelland on June 22 at the same venue, Belfast Live explain.
But as the coronavirus crisis unfolded, the hotel had to close its doors meaning both planned wedding parties could not happen.
Each couple had paid the company £500 deposit and asked for it to be returned when other suitable dates could not be found.
The hotel say they have rescheduled the “vast majority” of their wedding bookings affected, leaving a small number of couples they were unable to accommodate.
And Lauren and Kiri believe, given the circumstances, the hotel should return their money.
Instead of their £15,000 spring wedding which included 10 guests travelling from Australia, Lauren, 28, and Ryan, 30, a carpenter from Co Antrim, were offered Sunday or midweek slots in November or January. Kiri and Ben from Rasharkin, were offered a Sunday in October.
Lauren who lost her job during the pandemic, said: “We’d saved so hard for our wedding day. Leighinmohr House Hotel was our dream choice and when we were sold the package we felt assured they’d really look after us.
“But when Covid-19 struck that sense of attentiveness changed. We’d 10 family members travelling from Australia for the wedding, including a bridesmaid and a flower girl and the dates the hotel offered just couldn’t be done by our overseas travellers.
“I emailed and phoned, I asked for help and in the end I had to accept that the Leighinmohr couldn’t accommodate us in 2020 or 2021 on a date that suited our family.
“I was very disappointed but accepted we’d have to live with it and waited for the refund of the deposit.
“It was clear the hotel had many weddings booked that could go ahead and they said most parties has been moved to an other date.
“But unlike other hotels which have given couples like us full refunds when they couldn’t accommodate them, we’ve been told repeatedly the deposit is non refundable.
“Adrian Fullan, director of the Leighinmohr wrote saying, ‘We can only offer alternative dates and if the dates we have offered are not workable for you, I will offer you a complementary dinner, bed, and breakfast for two as a genuine gesture of goodwill on behalf of the hotel.’”
Lauren and Ryan have since booked their spring wedding for April 23 next year at the Kilmore Country House in Glenarrif with their Australian party able to change their flight tickets without charge.
Kiri, a childminder, said she experienced the same response from Leighinmohr House Hotel when health fears struck at the heart of her wedding plans.
She said: “It was obvious that our June wedding was not going to go ahead given the pandemic. We were told on April 1 that the hotel was not sure if it would be open or not in June but we were warned at that stage that they wouldn’t be refunding any deposits because the hotel wasn’t cancelling the weddings.
“Then we were offered a Sunday in October. In a panic I ask for it to be pencilled in but our minister was unable to take the wedding in our church that day and then my health took a turn for the worse.”
During that time Kiri discovered two masses on her neck and was sent for urgent scans.
She said: “Unfortunately the news wasn’t great. The lumps are still under investigation but my GP is worried about them. The consultant is also concerned and will be doing a biopsy when they grow past 10mm so we will see soon.
“But this new medical issue meant we felt we wanted to get married as soon as possible. We were scared and didn’t want to waste any time.
“I explained this to the Leighinmohr House Hotel and said we’d dearly have loved a proper wedding but all the circumstances conspired against us. I asked for my deposit back so we could pay for the registrar for our wedding. They refused.”
Kiri and Ben tied the knot on June 11 with just eight guests. She wore a £30 wedding dress bought online, having been unable to have her original wedding dress altered due to the closure of dressmakers during the pandemic.
She said: “I bought flowers in Lidl and Tesco and we had a beautiful small cake made by our original cake maker who offered to refund the money we’d spent on the original cake booking. If I get my health sorted out we’ll plan a bigger wedding party to celebrate, but we have lost faith in the hotel we’d really wanted.
“Things have been tough for all businesses and individuals. We’ve been strapped with my job as a childminder and Ben’s as a roofer taking a big hit. But we know that weddings are still booked, and continue to be booked at Leighinmohr and deposits are still being paid.
“For the couples who missed out on their weddings over the 100 days of lockdown, I’d think paying back the £500 for the few not rescheduled would’ve been the decent thing to do, especially when there apparently are so few of us.”
A spokesperson for the Competition and Markets Authority said: “The CMA has published guidance setting out its view on how the law operates on refunds and cancellations, in order to help consumers understand their rights and take their own action where appropriate, and to help businesses treat their customers fairly.
“If people in Northern Ireland need help with making a claim for a refund, they can get in touch with a consumer advice organisation such as the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland or consider seeking legal help.”
Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said: “The current situation is throwing up challenges for everyone, including businesses, but that does not mean that consumers should be deprived of their rights at this difficult time. If we find evidence that businesses are failing to comply with consumer protection law then we will take tough enforcement action to protect those rights.
“If people have been affected by unfair cancellation terms in wake of Covid-19, they can report them to the CMA here.
A spokesperson for Leighinmohr House Hotel, said: “We fully empathise with brides and grooms at this unprecedented time. Since the government imposed restrictions on couples and venues alike at the end of March, understandably so, brides, grooms, and venues have been placed in an invidious position.
“The vast majority of our wedding bookings affected have been moved to new dates, dates have been offered to other couples including weekend dates, and gestures of good have also been offered where we cannot find a compromise solution.
“The hotel continues to work alongside couples at this time of great upheaval with the goal of achieving an alternative solution where possible.”