The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained the Council did not tell her it had organised a community event at the same Council venue and time as her wedding ceremony. The Council was at fault. It failed to advise Mrs X of the planned event and its marketing material did not make it clear the venue may be open for public events at the same time. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mrs X and pay her £150 to acknowledge the frustration and distress caused.
- Mrs X complained the Council did not tell her it had organised a community event at the same Council venue and time that she had booked her wedding ceremony. Mrs X says the Council misled them into believing the location would be available for their exclusive use. The event meant the ceremony was delayed, they lost the opportunity to take planned photographs outside after the ceremony and it caused Mrs X frustration and distress.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the information provided by Mrs X in writing and on the telephone, including the information provided to her by the Council when she booked the venue.
- I have considered the information provided by the Council in response to our initial enquiries, including its complaint responses to Mrs X.
- I gave Mrs X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and considered their comments in reaching a final decision.
What I found
- In early 2019 Mrs X booked a Council-owned venue for her wedding ceremony at a cost of over £900. The Council confirmed the booking and provided supporting information which described the outside space as breath-taking and photo friendly. Mrs X says she visited the venue six weeks before the wedding. She says she asked whether there may be other weddings that day and was told that when there was a wedding on it would be exclusive to that wedding party.
- On the day of the wedding, later that year, Mrs X says she arrived 30 minutes before the ceremony and was initially stopped from driving to the entrance by security who advised no vehicles were allowed because of an event. The Council says there were no additional closures and access is always via entrances at the side of the complex as much of the site is pedestrian only access. When the wedding party entered the venue, they found an outside event taking place using amplified sound systems. People with camping chairs and gazebos were sat outside watching the event.
- Mrs X says at the time the wedding ceremony was due to start, a live music performance began projecting over a loud speaker. The Registrar asked that it be stopped for a short period or turned down, but the performer refused. Mrs X says this delayed the ceremony, as did having to shut windows and doors to block out the sound. Mrs X says she was unable to have photographs taken outside the venue after the ceremony, as planned, because of the performance and the noise level. She was also distressed by what had happened and just wanted to leave the venue. The delays had a knock-on effect to the timings for the rest of the day and meant she lost the opportunity to have formal photographs with certain family members.
- Three days after the wedding Mrs X emailed the Council to complain about the performance and that it had not told her it was taking place.
- The Council responded two days later apologising for ‘the unfortunate interruptions on your wedding day, this was not envisaged when we accepted your booking’. It went on to say ‘we should have communicated to you that there was an event taking place [at the venue] on your wedding day, this was an oversight on our behalf and I sincerely apologise for this’.
- An officer later spoke to Mrs X and said they would speak to their line manager. Mrs X chased a response in early November and was advised to contact another department in the Council who had organised the event. Mrs X remained dissatisfied and emailed a further complaint to the Council in mid-November.
- The Council responded in mid-December 2019. It said every care was taken to ensure the room booked was set up to her requirements and the features inside the venue were available for photographs before and after the ceremony. It said the outside area was a public open space which could be used by anyone. It said it did take on board her comments and would update all promotional material and its website to reiterate that the grounds are for public use and community events as well.
- The Council’s marketing information for the venue describes the outside space as ‘breath-taking’ and promotes the outside space as ‘photo friendly’. The information does not explain this is public open space and that it may be used for organised events at the same time as a wedding. This is fault. In response to Mrs X’s complaint the Council said it would update its promotional material and this is appropriate.
- Mrs X booked her wedding seven months in advance. When the Council organised the public event at the venue it should have told her about it. Because it did not do so, Mrs X lost the opportunity to change either the timing, the date or the venue for her ceremony. Mrs X’s wedding went ahead, however Mrs X was distressed and frustrated by the noise and disruption caused by the outside event.
- The Council has agreed, within one month of the final decision on this complaint, to apologise to Mrs X and pay her £150 to acknowledge the distress caused by its failure to advise her of the organised event taking place at the same time as her wedding.
- The Council has also agreed to provide evidence to the Ombudsman of its amended promotional material for the venue which advises that the outside space at the venue is public open space which may be used for organised events. Due to refurbishment work the venue is currently closed. As such the Council has agreed to provide this once the new promotional material is produced which is likely to be by Spring 2021.
- I have completed my investigation. There was fault leading to injustice which the Council has agreed to remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman