Civil Ceremonies – the latest Council cash cow

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.

7 Responses to “Civil Ceremonies – the latest Council cash cow”

  1. 1 Alan Douglas 13/12/2011 at 10:23 pm

    Thank you, AM. Kudos to Crawley Borough Council though, who offer a very nice room for up to 30 guests, all week and all day., and they have received our booking for £ 43.50. Though even they have moved their 50 guest £ 75 ones to over £ 200 since the summer.

    What “got” me was how these local civil servants seemed quite blase about carrying out their authority orders, and avoided telling me about the cheap option until, having learned more elsewhere, I phoned back and challenged. them.

    Alan Douglas

  2. 2 Martin Brumby 14/12/2011 at 6:50 am

    Just check out cremation charges and how they’ve “progressed” over the years…….

    Someone’s got to pay for those nice Climate Change Officers.

  3. 3 Alan Douglas 14/12/2011 at 7:26 am

    Martin, so it is no longer just Death and Taxes, now we have Birth (those cars left for hours/days in hospital cars parks), Marriage (as above), and Death (per your post) !

    They must have seen us coming !

    ALan Douglas

  4. 4 Shevva 14/12/2011 at 9:02 am

    Be cheaper to fly to Las Vegas.

    And you might get an Elvis impersonator to marry you.

  5. 5 John Payne 14/12/2011 at 10:07 am

    I see no point in civil Ceremonies particularly if is for same sexes. There should only be marriage and that should be only for man or woman.

  6. 6 Andrew Duffin 15/12/2011 at 9:12 am

    The solution to this is the one adopted in Scotland, where it’s the PERSON who is licenced to perform a marriage, rather than the PLACE where it’s done.

    Lots of people are licenced, many of the ministers, but plenty who are not, and they can marry you in your own front room if that’s what you want.

    Problem solved, beast not fed.

  7. 7 karmadjezjeremy grove 13/07/2012 at 10:51 am

    i have just booked a wedding in kent , i was never told of the £43.50 option although that wasnt a consideration as we wanted to get married at the hotel we are having the dinner and evening entertainment at. kent charge £530 to go out to a wedding , we live in devon and we had to register there where they charge £235 to go out to a wedding, the registrar who did out licenses said that someone should make a legal challenge to this as by law they are not allowed to make a profit when they go out to a wedding. and as there council officials the pay grade is the same throughout the country, so why is it £235 on devon, £530 in kent etc etc , i wish i could afford to tak ethis to court as the public once again is being ripped off

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