A Herefordshire hotelier is warning other businesses that written event contracts may mean nothing in law, after he lost a court case over a £1,000 deposit.
Peter Marks, the owner of the three-star, eight-bedroom Verzon House in Ledbury, was ordered by Hereford County Court to return the deposit, plus £150 costs, to Alexander and Rachel Ensor, after they cancelled their wedding celebrations at the hotel.
"Despite there being a legal and binding contract in place, we lost the case," said Marks, who has previously owned Lower Slaughter Manor in Gloucestershire and Rookery Hall in Cheshire. "I believe the ruling is incorrect in law."
The £1,000 deposit was paid at the time the wedding contract, for the reception on 9 July 2011, was signed by the then bride-to-be, Rachel Wharton, and Marks on 9 June 2010.
However, the couple cancelled the reception on 11 January 2011, after their request to bring their own wine and provide a pig roast for 100 guests from a third party supplier was refused by Marks. The hotel refused the request as it does not offer corkage or allow outside caterers to use their facilities.
The terms of the contract stated that if the wedding was cancelled within 28 days of paying the deposit, the £1,000 would be paid in full. After that time, the contract outlined a sliding scale of charges which would apply.
The couple took the case to a small claims hearing after Marks refused to return their deposit. In a letter to Marks, Ensor said he was "shocked" at being quoted £2,400 in total for the pig roast.
In subsequent conversations between the two parties, Ensor said Marks laughed "in a mocking way" when his fiancée told him she had found a reputable company who could provide a hog roast for around £450.
Ensor told Marks: "We feel that you have not upheld your part of the agreement to provide a helpful, welcoming and sincere service and see this as misrepresentation on your part."
Despite saying that he understood the terms and conditions under which the contract was signed, he continued: "Under the circumstances your attitude was totally unacceptable and we are not confident that you would remain civil and welcoming to our guest."
The case, heard on 14 July 2011, before Judge Khan, found in favour of the claimant. According to Marks, the judge said that he preferred the Ensors' version of events.
Marks has now written to the couple asking them for payment of £4,147.50, which amounts to 50% of the total estimated cost of the wedding, as the reception was cancelled between six and three months before the event.
To reduce the risk of a claim like this, it is important to make it clear from the outset:
â- What services your guests want to use.
â- On what basis either party can cancel the agreement.
â- What the consequences of bringing the agreement to an end are.
The next step is to ensure that this is reflected in any formal written agreement between you.
This case also serves as a reminder of the importance of delivering an all-round customer experience from the outset.
Hannah Clipston, head of hotels team and partner at law firm Thomas Eggar