‘My friend died days before our 60th birthday party – now the venue won’t refund me’

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Dear Katie,

To celebrate our 60th birthdays, a dear friend and I booked a venue called Simulacra in London for a joint party on March 26. 

It said it would do us a deal if we paid up front, so we did. On Jan 15 she paid a total of £1,375 to secure the night, half of which was my money.

Then, just seven weeks later on March 6, completely out of the blue, she died of an aneurysm. It was such a shock and I was, and still am, completely heartbroken.

When I tearfully contacted the venue on March 7 to cancel the party and ask for a refund, I was told it would be really difficult to pay the money back. 

They had contractors to pay whether or not the event went ahead, I was told. I was also told the deposit was non-refundable, as per the terms and conditions.

The venue said it would try to resell the slot on March 26 to another group and urged me to move my party to a future date, either as a celebration of my friend’s life or as a solo birthday party. 

Neither of these options is appealing after my friend’s tragic death. Her family and I simply want our money back.

Unfortunately, the venue didn’t manage to resell the date, so we were on the hook for the money, we were told. But surely in the case of the death a refund should be paid? 

I phoned Citizens Advice, which told me the venue was bound by something called “frustration of contract”. As it was my friend’s name on the paperwork and not mine, and she was now dead, the contract was void and therefore a refund was owed.

However, the proprietor has made it clear that he doesn’t have the money. I’m not sure what options I now have left other than to go to the small claims court.

– MG, via email

 

Dear Reader, 

A I was so sorry to hear of your friend’s untimely passing, which I know has knocked you for six. The pair of you should have been sipping champagne and strutting your stuff on the dancefloor at this fabulous knees up, but in a cruel twist of fate it wasn’t to be.

These past few weeks have been incredibly raw for you, and this venue has added stress to the situation. You paid £1,375 upfront for the party, which according to your invoice was for venue hire (£453), speakers rental (£480), security (£192) and cleaning (£250), including VAT. 

You were told by the venue manager that although he wished he was in a position to refund you in full, he couldn’t afford it because the venue had been forcibly closed during the pandemic. To my mind this was unacceptable, so I was happy to take up your case.

I made several attempts to phone the proprietor but was asked by a secretary to send an email. I refused, saying I needed to talk in person. From what I can see this was his first mistake when dealing with you. You’ve never spoken, and as a result tensions have soared over email.

Eventually we spoke and I walked him through the items in your invoice, asking why exactly each item couldn’t be refunded. 

You paid in full for speakers that were never hired, bouncers who never stood at the door and cleaners who never swept up a single crumb off the floor. In what world could this ever be fair, I asked.

You’d informed him of your friend’s death some three weeks before the party, giving him plenty of time to cancel these services. The proprietor started talking about the difficulties faced by casual workers when people cancel jobs. 

Well that’s just tough, I said. The nature of being a casual worker is that work can be cancelled. I said I didn’t know how much he’d already paid, but he needed to ask for a refund.

And what about the £453 you paid for venue hire, for this venue that sat empty all night? The proprietor said this was largely to cover the cost of organising the event, which had already been done. 

I agreed if this was a sunk cost that you would probably have to accept paying. But the proprietor seemed to think he could keep the rest of the money to make up for the loss of potential earnings on the night selling drinks.

I said it would be inappropriate to use your money to make up for some of what the venue might have made at the bar. 

It would effectively be asking you and your friend’s estate to pay for the consequences of her death on his business, when, of course, it was no one’s fault.

The following week the proprietor emailed you to offer a sum of £894 paid into your friend’s account. I asked him to explain how he had arrived at this sum and although no explanation was provided, it is a refund for roughly everything bar the venue hire.

You said that although you were left with a bitter taste in your mouth, you would accept this amount so you could move on.

No money has been paid as yet, and your friend’s sister, who is executor of her estate, will decide what to do next. 

Your friend’s funeral has now been and gone and you say it was a sad but wonderful celebration of her life, though surreal, as you still can’t quite fathom that she’s gone.

It is such a shame that you didn’t get to celebrate your 60th together. Your story is a reminder that we must seize the day and appreciate the people we love. None of us knows what tomorrow has in store.

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