Out-Law Guide 2 min. read

Coronavirus: cancelling events in the UK

With the UK government now advising against any large gatherings taking place, many businesses are having to postpone or cancel planned events at short notice.

Affected events will range from sports and entertainment events to conferences and training sessions.

If you now need to postpone or cancel an event, consider the following.

Use of technology

Is it possible to host the event using technology rather than postponing or cancelling altogether? This may be possible for training sessions or some conferences.

If you choose to do this, you will need to consider carefully the timing of the decision and the communication in order to ensure all attendees are made aware in good time, avoid the need to travel and can put the necessary technology in place to allow them to participate.

Contract with venue provider

If you are hosting the event at a third party venue, consider carefully the contract with your venue provider. Are you entitled to a refund if the event is cancelled, and in what circumstances?

Many venues have now closed temporarily in response to government announcements and guidance. There is considerable uncertainty over how long the situation will continue. Contract terms should be factored into your decision making process in determining whether or not to cancel events with longer lead times.


If you are cancelling an event, whether due to government guidance or low attendance numbers, you may well be required to provide a refund to attendees or customers. This will primarily be driven by the terms of the contract in place. However, it is also important to bear in mind that where attendees are consumers, they may have additional statutory rights. For example, in England, consumer rights laws would entitle attendees to a refund, excluding any booking fee.

Where the contract is a business-to-business contract, consider whether it provides for relief in a force majeure scenario. See our Out-Law Guide: Will Covid-19 trigger a force majeure clause?


A clear communications policy around any decision will be critical. The timing of the decision, although not necessarily a legal requirement, could have a significant impact on reputation and good will. It should therefore be considered carefully as part of your decision-making.


Consider early on whether or not insurance is likely to cover any cancellation or postponement. You should liaise carefully with your insurers or brokers in order to consider the specific terms of your policy.

See our Out-Law Analysis: Coronavirus: will UK insurers cover business losses?

Supply chain

Consider carefully the knock on impact on other suppliers - for example, catering or hospitality suppliers for the event. Could they bring a claim in respect of any cancellation? What steps can be taken in order to mitigate this?

Commercial rights

For sporting or music events, consider carefully what rights have been granted in relation to the event. If the event does not go ahead, how will this impact on sponsorship or commercial rights contracts that may have been entered into? Do these contain force majeure provisions, or are there obligations to provide alternative rights?

Organisations which have public sector stakeholders or funders should keep them up to date on plans. They may well have already provided guidance and, subject to state aid requirements, may be able to provide hardship funds to cover any short-term cancellation.

Sporting events

The UK government is considering the potential for playing spectator sports events behind closed doors. Should this go ahead, businesses will need to consider:

Broadcast options

What are the broadcast options and the contractual arrangements, if relevant, to ensure that members of the public are still able to enjoy the sporting event even without attending in person?

Ticket refunds

What ticket refunds may be required and how will these be processed legally and in line with contracts?

Supply chain arrangements

Which contracts with caterers, security staff and other venue logistics providers can be cancelled in order to minimise financial and contractual exposure?


Consider carefully the minimum number of staff that will be required to safely stage the event behind closed doors and ensure that there are processes in place to manage the wellbeing and safety of all athletes, officials, staff and volunteers at the event and to manage the relevant logistics.

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