The wedding industry has been left unsupported as the UK prepares to enter a 'three-tier' lockdown system.
As the current furlough scheme comes to an end, the Government has expanded its Job Support Scheme (JSS) to protect businesses that are legally required to close as a direct result of Coronavirus restrictions set by one or more of the four governments of the UK.
This means that wedding venues in areas under the Tier 3 lockdown - which is currently just Liverpool - could gain some limited financial support for up to six months. However, many wedding suppliers - who are not legally required to close but will be forced to stop work as a result of wedding venue closures - will not be supported.
Wedding venues in Tier 2 would not gain at all from the system, which was extended on Friday by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, despite their businesses being closed in all but name.
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What Does Each of the Three Tiers Mean?
The eligibility for support under the JSS will be determined by whether the business has been "legally required" to shut down due to the Government's restrictions. In this three tier system, only businesses that have been closed under the restrictions of Tier 3 will be eligible.
Here's the most basic explanation of what each tier of the Coronavirus restrictions includes:
- Least restrictions
- Less than 100 cases per 100,000 people
- Same restrictions as national measures: 'Rule of 6' where no more than six people are allowed to gather indoors or outdoors, but an exception for weddings and civil ceremonies where up to 15 people can attend.
- Restrictions increase
- Over 100 cases per 100,000 people
- No mixing between households in private dwellings, including in gardens, except with those in your established bubble. This will be extended to no mixing of households in hospitality and leisure settings, like pubs and restaurants
- Weddings and sit-down receptions of up to 15 people permitted
- Tightest restrictions
- Introduced when Tier 2 has failed to reduce transmissions
- No social contact with another household at all, including outdoors
- Places of worship would remain open
- Hospitality and leisure businesses could be completely shut down
How Does the New Three Tier Scheme Affect Wedding Businesses?
The Government's extended JSS will only be available to businesses that meet all their eligibility criteria. The Government says the aim of the JSS is "supporting the wage costs of employees who have been instructed to and cease work in eligible premises and enabling those premises to reopen as quickly as possible when they can."
The main eligibility criteria are: 1) the the business has been "legally required" to close as a result of restrictions set by one or more of the four governments in the UK, 2) employers must have a UK bank account and a UK PAYE scheme registered on or before 23 September 2020, and 3) employers must be instructed to and cease work for a minimum of 7 consecutive (or calendar) days.
So how does it affect wedding businesses?
Wedding venues that are in Tier 3 will fall under the leisure and hospitality businesses that are "legally required" to close. These businesses, if they meet the criteria, will be eligible for JSS, which gives a grant to cover two-thirds of the normal pay for each eligible employee up to £2,100 per month. The JSS is only temporary and lasts from 1 November 2020 for 6 months and will be reviewed in January. The grant is paid in arrears and employers can start making a claim from December 2020 through gov.uk to be reviewed in January. This means that jobs at wedding venues in Tier 3 should be kept safe until the end of the scheme.
However, wedding venues in Tiers 1 and 2 do not get the same financial help. The Government guidelines state: "This scheme will cover businesses that, as a result of restrictions set by one or more of the four governments in the UK, are legally required to close their premises. This includes premises restricted to delivery or collection only services from their premises." As these venues are not being "legally required" to shut, they are not eligible for JSS.
Simon Steel, who runs Dodford Manor in Northamptonshire and Bredenbury Court Barns in Herefordshire, said the Job Support Scheme was "nonsensical". He said that while a new furlough system is useful, this scheme is limited to venues in lockdown areas.
The JSS expects venues to pick up 55% of the staff wages when they are only working for 33% of the time. For the venues that the grant does cover, he pointed out that the business would need to not only pay the staff for the hours they worked but make up the remaining 22% - and all this with no real revenue coming into the wedding industry as venues are not able to effectively host functions.
For those that remain open without support from the government, layoffs are inevitable while others will survive with staff on skeleton wages, but he warned that venues did not have a "bottomless pit" to pay employees from.
"We sat down with our 26 employees and have managed to hold onto every one but have had to compress their hours. Once furlough ends, some staff will have dropped 50% or more of their take home income, which is extremely difficult.
"This is not a highly-paid industry and many in the hospitality industry are living on above the minimum wage but it's no great deal of money. Many of the catering team are older people subsiding their retirement income and young people subsidising their way through university. They're being hit directly."
Venues which are in Tiers 1 and 2 - like Dodford Manor and Bredenbury Court Barns - now face 2021 with no government financial support, while also being hit by fewer bookings thanks to the 15 person limit.
Simon said that Boris Johnson's statement that weddings could be limited to 15 people for possibly the next six months had caused "widespread panic" and was "crushing" to the industry. After the Prime Minister's announcement, their two venues moved dozens of functions. He said wedding venues were now being hit twice as couples no longer want to book weddings for the next six months and they are not bringing in any income from weddings which have been postponed to 2021 - all while receiving no support from the government. "The government continues to single out the industry with restrictions without providing the accompanying support," he said.
The JSS covers hospitality and leisure businesses that are forced to close down their premises. This means that some wedding suppliers may fall under the rules, while others won't.
The guidelines are currently unclear on what this means for hairdressers, beauty salons and barbers, for example. If their premise is required to close, the business would be eligible for JSS, however, a mobile hairdresser or make up artist would not be. It falls on whether a business has a premise.
Wedding planner and founder of La Fête, Charlotte Ricard-Quesada, says the industry has been expecting a return to heightened restrictions, but it will only add to the "catastrophic" year for wedding businesses.
As many small, independent wedding businesses have already had to close their door this year, she predicts "the impact will be mostly felt by wedding venues who were still able to operate in some capacity and other vendors such as florists who were still providing some minimal services."
She adds: "It's just so sad because this is another step backwards for our industry and for all of these couples. Who knows when the industry will bounce back again? We are a positive and vibrant industry, however, in these times we have to be realistic. As much as that is part of our job too, we normally make dreams come true."
What Isn't Covered By The Job Support Scheme?
The guidelines are clear that only premises "legally required" to close are eligible, which means they must be in Tier 3. Here's a few things this means:
- You are not eligible if your business premise is in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 location
- You are not eligible if your business is mobile and does not have a premise
- You are not eligible if you are a business indirectly forced to shut because of industries legally required to close, e.g. a wedding styling business may not be able to operate without wedding venues, but as they are not "legally required" to shut, they are not covered
- You are not eligible if your premises is located in a tier where shutdown is not "legally required", but you have lost your business because customers can't travel from their tier. For example, a wedding venue in Tiers 1 or 2 may still be able to host weddings, but will lose income from couples in Tier 3 who can no longer host their day there.
What Does This Mean for Couples?
It's really important for couples to be interested in what is happening to wedding businesses. If your wedding venue or supplier cannot financially sustain themselves, they will have to close down for good. Simply put, if you lose your venue and suppliers, you lose your wedding.
There are a huge number of things on our minds during this pandemic, but it's vital that, where able, couples fight for their wedding venue and suppliers. These passionate small businesses are working hard to stay afloat so that they can give you the day you deserve.