Couples left scrambling after wedding planner closes amid legal dispute
A group of angry brides claim they have been left jilted at the altar – not by their partners, but by the company they hired to organise and carry out their weddings.
When Bribie Island Pop Up Weddings, an award-winning local business in Queensland's Moreton Bay, abruptly shut up shop in November last year, it left stressed out couples having to hastily throw together their own weddings, some with just days or weeks to spare.
Months on, customers whose weddings did not go ahead as a result of the company's closure claim they are owed their deposits, which could total up to $30,000.
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Brisbane mum Amanda Mackay thought everything was set to go for the intimate wedding she had booked with her partner of eight years, Paul, on Bribie Island.
But, three weeks out from their special day, Mackay was told the business was closing down and all weddings, including her own on November 14, would be cancelled.
"I was thinking, 'What the hell.' I was freaking out, knowing I would have to suddenly try to re-book everything myself," Mackay said.
Mackay said she and her partner thankfully managed to pull off their last-minute ceremony without a hitch – due in part to the kindness of several vendors – but she claims they were still owed a $3500 deposit by Bribie Island Pop Up Weddings, for which they had been demanding a refund ever since.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
9news.com.au understands there are at least 10 couples who claim they are still owed money by Bribie Island Pop Up Weddings.
In August last year the company's founder, Ellen Smith, who ran the business for 14 years, sold it to a new owner, Wendy Craig.
Both parties are now locked in a legal dispute over the sale contract of the business – at issue is whether wedding deposits already paid by the couples were included as an asset.
With both parties unable to agree on a resolution, the case is heading to the Maroochydore District Court.
Craig's lawyer, Bill Redpath of Hawke's lawyers, told 9news.com.au that his client claims that none of the details about the deposits paid, nor any of the money, was transferred to his client after she purchased the business.
"The problem is there is a dispute about what was the applicable contract, and what were its terms, so that is one of the issues between the parties that hasn't been resolved yet," Redpath said.
"From our client's point of view, she is keen to see if the issue of the deposits to the brides can be resolved as soon as possible because she appreciates that they are in the middle of this dispute."
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When contacted by 9news.com.au, Smith said she was "devastated" to hear of the couples impacted by the sale of her business.
"I truly hope they are able to still have the wedding days they deserve," Smith said.
"I built this business from the ground up, putting 14 years of my life into it, winning many awards thanks to the thousands of happy clients I was lucky enough to have over the years. To see it dismantled is heartbreaking."
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Nicole Murray, who lives on Bribie Island, is another customer impacted by the business' abrupt closure.
Murray said she was impressed by the company's stellar reputation when she chose to book her wedding with them last April.
"Everything, including the photos on the Facebook page, looked beautiful," she said.
"All the comments and reviews were amazing."
The 25-year-old mum said she booked a $9800 deluxe wedding package with Bribie Island Pop Up Weddings, paying a $900 deposit.
Murray said she only found out the business had been sold when Ellen made a post on the company's Facebook page about the change in ownership.
Eager to get assurance about what was happening with her wedding, Murray said she set up a meeting with the new owner.
At the meeting, Murray said Craig was quick to let her know that her wedding would be going ahead as planned.
"She just was so reassuring. I came home so happy, she told me everything I wanted to hear," Murray said.
However, Murray said she was unable to get in touch with Craig after the meeting and grew anxious.
She claims she then called the venue where her wedding was to be held, only to find no booking had been made.
The couple are yet to get married and now plan to elope at the end of the year.
However, Murray said she was still furious about the refund she claimed she was owed.
"It's made me so angry," she said.
Speaking on behalf of Craig, her lawyer said she claims she had "done everything she could" in the circumstances, including reaching out to the affected couples on social media.
"Our client organised nearly 20 weddings," which Craig claimed was done "without the help of the deposit." Redpath said further that, according to Craig, she "could not continue to sustain these losses".
Another affected customer, Carolin, claims she lost a deposit of $600 when her wedding, planned for November, was cancelled.
Carolin, who asked for her surname to be withheld, said she and other customers had lodged a complaint with Queensland's Office of Fair Trading.
In a letter seen by 9news.com.au, the Office of Fair Trading informed one of the customers they were unable to negotiate on their behalf as the matter was the subject of a legal dispute.
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