Regular readers will be familiar with this blog’s occasional focus on local authorities that take advantage of their largely unscrutinised position to fleece residents with unjustifiable charges and fees, on top of Council Tax.
One such reader, Alan Douglas, got in touch to share his story of how councils have seized upon Civil Ceremonies as the latest method of prising money from our pockets.
As Alan explains, by law each Registration District has to offer Civil Ceremonies at a cost of around £43.50. Councils fulfill this obligation, but in such a grudging manner no one in their right mind would accept the package on offer. For example, Kent offers these £43.50 ceremonies two days a week, at about 10.00 and 10.30am, and the ceremony is held literally in an ordinary office. Hardly the kind of memory a couple would want for their venue for such an important moment in their lives.
When Alan personally enquired about a Civil Ceremony at Royal Tunbridge Wells, he was told it could be performed at the council’s suite Monday to Thursday – but at a cost of £505, with weekend ceremonies being charged at up to £675. The Council Officer dealing with Alan’s enquiry said that these ceremonies were the cheapest they did. There was no mention of the £43.50 ‘waste transfer station’ version that has to be provided by law. Another enquiry, this time to Crowborough in Sussex, saw a Civil Ceremony provided – for £75.00 – still with no mention of the basic version that has to be offered.
Alan did some more digging, phoning a number of local authorities to enquire about Civil Ceremonies in their boroughs. It won’t come as a raging shock to learn that while all councils are meeting the letter of the law with the basic ceremony, many focus all their attention on flogging their up-market alternatives without giving the full facts to those making enquiries.
Most of the basic ceremonies are performed in dedicated rooms of various sizes and standard of decor. But the investigation shows many local authorities are now “decommissioning” their rooms, only to redecorate and renamed them in order to charge higher fees. Not only that, many councils are actively putting couples off from choosing a basic Civil Ceremony by providing so few “basic” slots that they don’t even come close to covering the demand. In their impatience to join a long waiting list, couples are being kettled into paying much higher fees in order to solemnise their relationship. Going back to Kent, there is only one office providing basic ceremonies for the whole county and it is providing only four ceremony slots per week.
In surprisingly candid admissions, two authorities contacted by Alan confirmed they would not tell an enquirer about the basic charge wedding, preferring to push their much more profitable alternatives.
This all leads to a simple question. Do these councils exist to serve the local community, or does the local community exist to serve the interests of the council? Draw your own conclusions.
With thanks to Alan Douglas.