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Cornwall Council (21 003 054)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 21 Oct 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council will not refund her the fee she paid to give notice of her marriage and the deposit for her wedding ceremony.
  2. Ms X says the Council cancelled her wedding ceremony and she has lost out financially as she will have to pay a new notice of marriage fee.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of this investigation I considered the information provided by Ms X and the Council. I discussed the complaint with Ms X over the telephone. I sent a draft of this decision to Ms X and the Council for comments.

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What I found

  1. When intending to marry you must sign a legal statement at your local register office. This is known as giving notice. A person must give notice at least 29 days before their ceremony and must hold their ceremony within 12 months of giving notice.
  2. Ms X was due to get married in April 2020. In February 2020 she paid the Council £70 for a notice of marriage for her and her partner. She also paid the Council a £57 deposit for her wedding ceremony package. The Council’s website said this was a non-refundable deposit. The Council said customers were made aware the deposit was non-refundable as this was written in the confirmation pack sent in the post.
  3. In March 2020 the Council cancelled Ms X’s wedding ceremony due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions which came into force. This resulted in all weddings being stopped.
  4. Ms X moved her wedding ceremony to September 2020. While weddings could take place at this time Ms X decided to cancel the ceremony as she and her partner could not have the wedding ceremony they wanted due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place. Ms X moved her wedding to 6 March 2021.
  5. In February 2021 the Council cancelled Ms X’s wedding ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Council did not resume wedding ceremonies until late March 2021.
  6. Ms X’s notice of marriage expired in March 2021. When she contacted the Council to rebook her wedding ceremony the Council told her she would need to pay a further £70 for a new notice of marriage for her and her partner. Ms X decided to cancel the ceremony and asked the Council to return the fee she paid for the notice of marriage and the £57 deposit.
  7. Following the Council’s refusal to refund her the fees paid, Ms X raised a formal complaint. The Council responded at the end of March 2021. The Council said there is no current provision in law that allows for an extension to the notice of marriage period therefore Ms X would have to pay a further fee if she wished to re-book her wedding ceremony. The Council said it decided not to waive the fee where a marriage did not take place within 12 months of giving notice as local taxpayers would have to bear this cost.
  8. Ms X escalated her complaint to stage two. She said she was unhappy about having to pay again for a notice of marriage when it was the Council who cancelled the ceremony. Ms X also asked the Council to refund her the £57 deposit for the ceremony package.
  9. The Council provided its stage two response in April 2021. The Council said:
    • It already explained its position about Ms X having to pay a new fee to give notice of her marriage.
    • National legislation caused the postponement of Ms X’s wedding ceremony, not a local decision by the Council.
    • National legislation sets the period for which a notice to marry is valid for, not the Council. Where a wedding ceremony was postponed to a new date outside the notice to marry period a person must give a new notice to marry and pay a fee.
    • The £57 deposit Ms X paid was non-refundable. The Council said Ms X could re-book her ceremony and the £57 deposit will transfer to the new booking.

Analysis

  1. As Ms X’s was unable to get married within 12 months of giving notice, she would have to give notice again. While the Council has discretion to waive or refund Ms X the £70 fee for giving notice it is not under an obligation to do so. The Council has decided not to automatically waive fees for people whose notices expired during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has explained why it has made this decision in relation to local taxpayers. This is a decision the Council is entitled to make.
  2. In relation to the £57 deposit Ms X paid. The Council’s website and information pack explains this is not refundable. The Council has given Ms X the option of transferring this deposit to a new booking should she wish to. I have seen no evidence of fault in the way the Council reached its decision not to refund Ms X and therefore I cannot criticise it.
  3. While I recognise it must be frustrating for Ms X to have her wedding ceremony cancelled this was through no fault of the Council but because of national legislation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found the Council was not at fault for deciding not to refund Ms X the fee she paid to give notice of her marriage and the deposit for her wedding ceremony.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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