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Approved premises guidance

Guidance for premises to be approved as a venue for civil marriages and civil partnerships. 

On this page

  1. Welcome to Dorset Registration Service
  2. Dorset ceremonies
  3. What is a suitable venue and ceremony room?
  4. What are the pre-application requirements?
  5. The application process
  6. The licence
  7. Renewal, revocation, reviews and reinstatement
  8. The ceremony day
  9. Additional ceremony day requirements
  10. Contacts

Welcome to Dorset Registration Service

Welcome to Dorset Registration Service and thank you for expressing an interest in becoming one of our Approved Premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships.

This guidance booklet explains the licence application process, requirements and conditions which must be met in order for your application to be successful. Please read this booklet carefully before submitting your application.

If you require further assistance or advice please contact us.

Dorset Registration Service works in partnership with Approved Premises to promote civil ceremonies in Dorset. Our mission is to become the ‘Service of Choice’ for a couple wishing to celebrate their special day and our vision, with your help, is that a Dorset ceremony will be synonymous with: stunning location; quality service; simplicity of process; and customer excellence.

We look forward to receiving your application.

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Dorset ceremonies

Dorset Registration Service aims to provide an excellent customer experience for couples choosing to celebrate their special day in Dorset.

The Service offers the following ceremonies:

An ‘Approved Premises’ licence is required for venues that want to offer marriage and civil partnership ceremonies. In Dorset this licence is issued by Dorset Council Registration Service. A licence is not required for naming, renewal of vows, commitment or citizenship ceremonies. 

Civil marriage

This ceremony has legal status. It provides the only alternative to a religious marriage. 

Civil partnership

This ceremony has legal status. It is the only means by which same sex couples may legally form a partnership. 

Bespoke ceremonies

Ceremonies can be as simple or sophisticated as the couple wish; what is important to the Registration Service is finding out what matters for the couple. We will meet with them and provide professional advice and help in creating their own bespoke ceremony.

Essential ceremony information

Ceremonies may take place at any time on any day of the week including Sundays and bank holidays.

For both civil marriages and civil partnerships, the ceremony is conducted by a Celebrant and a Registrar. They are both provided by Dorset Council and for legal reasons they must both be Dorset Council employees. The Celebrant and Registrar will normally arrive at the venue thirty minutes prior to the start of the ceremony. Occasionally couples may prefer to have a close friend or relative to lead the ceremony, this may be possible, and we would advise the couple to contact the Service for more information.

When booking a civil ceremony, the couple should first contact the approved premises and provisionally arrange a date. The couple should then contact Dorset Registration Service to book the registration team to conduct the ceremony.When this has been confirmed the couple should confirm their booking with the approved premises.It is currently the responsibility of the couple to ensure that both the Approved Premises and the registration team are booked and confirmed for the same time and date.Dorset Registration Service is presently developing an “On-Line Ceremony Booking System” which will be accessible to all Approved Premises if they so wish. This will enable Approved Premises to view the availability of the registration team for the required date and time, book their services and get instant confirmation of the booking. This system should benefit both the Approved Premises and the couple.

The holder of the approved premises licence must ensure that on ceremony days there is an individual or ‘responsible person’ present to ensure compliance with licence conditions. It is necessary for the ‘responsible person’ to be available on the premises for a minimum of one hour prior to and throughout the proceedings.

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What is a suitable venue and ceremony room?

Suitable venues

  • an Approved Premises must be a permanent immovable structure comprising of a room or any boat or other vessel which is permanently moored
  • civil ceremonies cannot legally be held in a temporary structure. A tent, marquee, most forms of transport and open air would not be eligible for approval
  • Dorset Registration Service will consider applications which include a “garden room” or free-standing structure, providing that it has a solid floor, a roof and is a permanent and immovable structure; please see ‘local conditions’ for further requirements. It is permissible for marquees to be erected over or adjoining the ‘garden room’ for guest purposes
  • the premises must not be a building which is used solely or mainly for religious purposes or which has been used solely or mainly for religious purposes and has not been subsequently used for other purposes. A building that is certified for public worship would fall into this category, as would a chapel in a stately home or hospice
  • the premises must be regularly available to the public for the solemnisation of civil marriages and the formation of civil partnerships
  • the requirement that the premises must be regularly available for use by the public will preclude a solely private house from being approved
  • the venue must be in keeping with the solemnity of a civil ceremony
  • Dorset Council is dedicated to promoting equality of opportunity. The premises should where possible, comply with disabled access requirements. For more information please visit www.equalityhumanrights.com

Suitable ceremony rooms

  • an individual room within the venue will be registered as the “ceremony room” and civil ceremonies may only take place in the registered room. It is acceptable to register more than one room within the venue at the time of your application. This will not add any extra cost to the initial licence fee
  • the proposed ceremony room(s) must be a distinct and identifiable part of the premises and must be decorated in a seemly and dignified way
  • the proposed ceremony room(s) must not be affected by any other activity happening at the same time on the premises
  • there is no specified room size, however, the minimum occupancy is 6 people i.e. The Celebrant, Registrar, the couple and two witnesses
  • the number of guests that can be comfortably accommodated within the ceremony room will be discussed with the venue and must not exceed the maximum capacity allowed under the Fire Risk Assessment
  • the room will need to be provided with a suitable table and three chairs, which will be used by the Registrar and the couple throughout the ceremony
  • chairs will need to be provided for guests
  • in addition to the ceremony room a separate room will be required in order for the Registrar to interview the ceremonial party in confidence prior to the start of the ceremony
  • the ceremony room and other rooms to be used, must be cleaned, set up and ready one hour before the agreed start time of the ceremony
  • lighting must be adequate and ideally the Approved Premises should have suitable heating. If heating is not available, any person booking the venue for a ceremony should be informed
  • no food nor drink may be served nor consumed within the ceremony room(s) one hour before and during the ceremony. It is acceptable for food and drink to be served or consumed elsewhere in the premises. Please note that it is permissible for food and drink to be present in the ceremony room providing it is neither served nor consumed within the ceremony room one hour before and during the ceremony

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What are the pre-application requirements?

General

  • the applicant will be deemed by Dorset Council to be the responsible person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, to ensure that a fire risk assessment has been carried out on the premises
  • the fire risk assessment is required to assess safety and make sure that all people who are on the premises can evacuate the building in the case of a fire
  • Dorset Registration Service will officially consult with the Fire and Rescue Service. They may wish to inspect the premises which may result in recommendations being made regarding fire precautions, alarms, fire exits etc. The applicant is requested to act upon the recommendations prior to the licence being issued
  • the applicant is required to produce a copy of the current fire risk assessment at the time of application
  • it is necessary for the premises to meet health and safety requirements. Dorset Registration Service will consider the health and safety of both the registration staff and the public who patronise the premises
  • advice on fire safety matters may be obtained from Dorset & Wilts Fire and Rescue Service – please refer to the ‘contacts’ page

Planning

Before submitting an application, form and fee applicants are advised to contact their local planning authority to check whether use as an Approved Premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships would constitute development or change of use – please refer to the ‘contacts’ page. 

Public liability insurance

It is necessary for the premises to have public liability insurance cover during the three-year period of the licence. Such insurance must be for a minimum of £5 million in respect of any one act. 

Public performance of sound recordings (PPL)

If sound recordings are to be played in public, UK copyright law (the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988) requires a premise to obtain a PPL licence. 

Car parking

Two reserved car parking spaces should be provided for registration staff on ceremony days. These spaces should be near to the building and allow easy access and exit so that the registration staff may leave the venue quickly once the ceremony has finished as they may need to proceed to another ceremony. 

Pre-inspection

Dorset Registration Service offers a pre-inspection visit for all applicants. This provides the opportunity to discuss the suitability of the venue in greater detail and for the applicant to fully understand the arrangements and commitments involved in becoming an Approved Premises.

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The application process

General

You must:

When completed, the form should be submitted to: 

Dorset Registration Service, Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1RP

Supporting notes 

The application form requires the following information: 

  • the full name and address of the applicant. The applicant must be an individual with an interest in the premises i.e. proprietor or trustee. An application may be made on behalf of a limited company by a director or the company secretary
  • name, postal address and telephone number of the premises which are subject of the application
  • a description of the nature of the premises i.e. hotel, stately home or civic accommodation and the primary and other uses of the venue
  • the owner of the premises, if not the applicant
  • the person who occupies the premises
  • number and names of proposed ceremony rooms
  • the maximum number of people permitted to occupy each room in which ceremonies are intended to be held, under the fire risk assessment and the number of guests that the room is intended for, if it is a lesser number than permitted. 

Relevant supporting documents to enclose with your application

a) Two copies of a plan of the venue (no larger than A3 size) showing the proposed “ceremony rooms”. These need to be to scale and must show all aspects of fire safety for the building such as;

  • fire exits
  • fire extinguisher points
  • fire detection points
  • fire alarm points etc

b) A copy of the public liability insurance (£5 Million)

c) A copy of the up to date fire risk assessment

d) Copies of any booklets or information leaflets about the venue

Fees 

The licence fee is non-refundable. Please send a cheque or postal order made payable to ‘Dorset Council’. Alternatively, you may phone us and pay by credit or debit card. 

Fees for licensing venues are set annually by Dorset Council.  

Approved premises licence fee
Approved premises licence fee
Type of application19/2020/2121/22

Initial licence application

£1,076

£1,100

£1,125

Renewal licence application

£1,076

£1,100

£1,125

Review of decision

(The fee will be refunded if the original decision is not upheld)

£539

£551

£563

Processing your application form

The service will: 

  • check the application details
  • place a public notice on the website.The notice will state the name of the applicant and venue and allows a period of 21 days for any person or organisation to comment or object to the approval
  • consult with Dorset & Wilts Fire and Rescue Service
  • notify the District Council planning services of the receipt of your application
  • arrange for an inspection of the premises 

Following the inspection and subject to all other requirements being met the licence will be issued. 

Please note that granting a licence can take between 4 to 8 weeks.

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The licence

The licence is valid for a period of 3 years. After the end of the second year the licence holder may submit an application for their licence to be renewed.  

Licence requirements

All applications must meet the following standard and local requirements: 

Standard requirements

In considering the suitability of premises as a venue, the authority will have regard to the following guidance from the Registrar General: 

  1. The laws relating to “approved premises” are intended to allow proceedings to take place regularly in hotels, stately homes, civic halls and similar premises without compromising the fundamental principles of English law and parliament’s intention to maintain the solemnity of the occasion.
  2. The term “premises” is defined in Regulation 2(1) of The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 as a permanently immovable structure comprising at least a room or any boat or other vessel which is permanently moored. Any premises outside this definition, such as the open air, a tent, marquee or any other temporary structure and most forms of transport, would not be eligible for approval. In addition, there are requirements in Schedule 1 that must be met before an approval can be granted.
  3. The premises must be a seemly and dignified venue for the proceedings, which must take place in an identifiable and distinct part of those premises. The primary use of a building would render it unsuitable if that use could demean proceedings or bring them into disrepute.
  4. The premises must not be religious premises as defined by section 6(2) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and The Marriages and Civil Partnerships Regulations (Approved Premises) 2005. These are premises which are used solely or mainly for religious purposes and have not been subsequently used for other purposes. A building that is certified for public worship would fall into this category as would a chapel in a stately home or hospice. However, premises in which a religious group meets occasionally might be suitable if the other criteria are met.
  5. The premises must not be any part of a register office on the plan submitted by the authority and approved by the Registrar General under the Registration Service Act 1953. Any rooms in the same premises as the register office that aren’t on this plan e.g. a council chamber in the same town hall, can be approved but a room in a register office cannot be approved. However, an authority can set its fee for attending a marriage or civil partnership in approved premises at the same level as the prescribed fee for a marriage or civil partnership in a register office.
  6. The premises used for the solemnisation of marriages and the formation of civil partnerships must be regularly available to the public for use for one or the other. Under the terms of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (which came into effect on 30 April 2007) it is unlawful for a person concerned with the provisions to the public of goods, facilities or services to discriminate against a person who seeks to use those goods, facilities or services on the grounds of the sexual orientation of that person. The holder of an approval who does not allow premises to be used for both marriages and civil partnership, or who provides accommodation, services or facilities for one and not the other, is liable to legal action as a result. In common with other equality legislation, this action would need to be taken by the parties concerned against the holder of the approval. The local authority that granted the approval has no powers to act or intervene, unless, of course, it is the holder of the approval.
  7. The requirement that the premises must be regularly available for use by the public will preclude a private house from being approved.

Local requirements

In considering the suitability of premises as a venue, the authority will have regard to the following local requirements:

  1. Two reserved car parking spaces should be provided for registration staff, free of charge, on ceremony days. These spaces should be near to the building and allow easy access and exit so that the registration staff may leave the venue quickly once the ceremony has finished.
  2. In addition to the ceremony room, a separate room will be required in order for the Registrar to interview the ceremonial party in confidence prior to the start of the ceremony. The room must be suitably decorated, clean and provided with two chairs and a table. The room must also be provided with drinking water and tissues. 

Licence conditions

Once a licence has been issued the licence holder must comply with the following standard and local conditions: 

Standard conditions

(Proceedings means the solemnisation of a marriage or the formation of a civil partnership and does not refer to any other activities on the premises)

1. The holder of the approval must ensure that there is at all times an individual with responsibility for ensuring compliance with these conditions (‘’the responsible person’’) and that the responsible person’s occupation, seniority, position of responsibility in relation to the premises, or other factors (his ‘’qualification’’), indicate that he is in a position to ensure compliance with these conditions.

2. The responsible person or, in his absence, an appropriately qualified deputy appointed by him, shall be available on the premises for a minimum of one hour prior to and throughout each of the proceedings.

3. The holder must notify the authority:

a) of his name and address immediately upon him becoming the holder of an approval under regulation 6(2) of the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005; and

b) of the name, address and qualification of the responsible person immediately upon the appointment of a new responsible person.

4. The holder must notify the authority immediately of any change to any of the following:

a) the layout of the premises, as shown in the plan submitted with the approved application, or in the use of the premises;

b) the name or full postal address of the approved premises;

c) the description of the room or rooms in which the proceedings are to take place;

d) the name or address of the holder of the approval; and

e) the name, address or qualification of the responsible person

5. The approved premises must be made available at all reasonable times for inspection by the authority.

6. A suitable notice stating that the premises have been approved for the proceedings and identifying and giving directions to the room in which the proceedings are to take place must be displayed at each public entrance to the premises for one hour prior to and throughout the proceedings.

7. No food or drink may be sold or consumed in the room in which proceedings take place for one hour prior to and during those proceedings.

8. All proceedings must take place in a room which was identified as one to be used for that purpose on the plan submitted with the approved application.

9. The room in which the proceedings are to take place must be separate from any other activity on the premises at the time of the proceedings.

10. The arrangements for and content of the proceedings must meet with the prior approval of the superintendent registrar of the district, or the registration authority of the area, as the case may be, in which the approved premises are situated.

11. Any proceedings conducted on approved premises shall not be religious in nature. In particular, the proceedings shall not:

a) include extracts from an authorised religious marriage service or from sacred religious texts;

b) be led by a minister of religion or other religious leader;

c) involve a religious ritual or series of rituals;

d) include hymns or other religious chants; or

e) include any form of worship.

The proceedings may include readings, songs or music that contains an incidental reference to a god or deity in an essential non-religious context. For this purpose, any material used by way of introduction to, in any interval between parts of, or by way of conclusion to the proceedings shall be treated as forming part of the proceedings.

12. Public access to any proceedings in approved premises must be permitted without charge.

13. Any reference to the approval of premises on any sign or notice, or on any stationary or publication, or within any advertisement may state that the premises have been approved by the authority as a venue for marriage in pursuance of section 26(1) (bb) of the Marriage Act 1949, and the formation of civil partnerships under section 6(3A)(a) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 but shall not state or imply any recommendation of the premises or its facilities by the authority, the Register General or any of the officers or employees of either of them.

14. If a change of name to the approved premises occurs after the issue of the certificate for marriage or the civil partnership document, but before the proceedings, the former name of the approved premises as recorded in the certificate for marriage or the civil partnership document shall remain valid for its duration for the purpose of the proceedings.

Local conditions

1. The holder of the approval must maintain relevant public liability insurance in respect of any legal liabilities which might arise from the use of the holder’s premises as a venue for marriages and civil partnerships.

2. The following supplementary conditions apply for the approval of ‘garden rooms’ and other free-standing structures:

a) The structure must have foundations and be permanent and immovable and in this respect the decision of the County Council on what is considered “permanent” and “immovable” will be final.

b) The structure must have a brick, stone or concrete base and ideally this should be raised above the surrounding ground level. The structure should have a roof, which should be tiled, although other covers e.g. thatch, will be considered providing they are waterproof and are a requirement of the local planning officer and/or a conservation/heritage decision. The roof should be supported by brick, stone, concrete or wood pillars or walls. The space between pillars may have the benefit of trellising or other decoration.

c) The structure should be able to be provided with electric light and power.

d) The structure should be of sufficient size to accommodate the following:

  • celebrant
  • registrar
  • the couple
  • two witnesses
  • a suitable table and three chairs
  • space for the ceremony to be conducted

The decision of the County Council on what is considered to be sufficient space will be final.

e) The structure must provide a seemly and dignified venue in which civil ceremonies may be celebrated.

f) The structure must be regularly available to be used for the celebration of civil ceremonies.

g) The structure will only be approved if it forms a part of a larger venue, which must include either one or a number of other approved ceremony rooms. In this respect when ever a ceremony is booked with in a free-standing structure, another ceremony room must be kept available so that if the weather is inclement the ceremony may be moved inside.

h) The decision as to whether, because of inclement weather, a marriage has to be moved into a ceremony room inside the venue will be made by the registration staff after discussion with the ceremonial party and the venue. The decision of the registration staff is final.

i) The venue must make sure that any ceremonies taking place within the structure are not affected by any other activities taking place at the venue. The immediate area surrounding this structure is to be roped/barriered so as to restrict access one hour before and during a ceremony. No food or drink is permitted within this roped/barriered area one hour before and during a ceremony.

The licence certificate

The first licence certificate is framed and will be delivered to the premises shortly after the venue is approved. The notice must be permanently and prominently displayed in the main entrance/reception at the venue. 

Promotion of the licence

The licence holder or any person or persons employed or acting on his/her behalf in respect of the Approved Premises may not imply in any advertisement, statement or document that Dorset Council, Dorset Registration Service or the Registrar General recommends the Approved Premises. Licence Holders may use the following words to describe the granting of a licence as an Approved Premises: 

Approved by Dorset Council as a venue for the solemnization of civil marriages and the formation of civil partnerships 

Transfer of licence

The licence is not transferable between premises. It is acceptable, subject to approval by the Dorset Registration Service, to transfer a licence between licence holders, upon the sale of a venue or the appointment of a new manager.

Refusal

If a licence is not approved by Dorset Registration Service, the applicant will be given notice in writing together with the reasons for the decision. An applicant who is aggrieved by the refusal to grant a licence may seek a review by a member of the Review Panel of Dorset Council’s Regulation Committee.

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Renewals, revocation, reviews and reinstatement

Renewal

Dorset Registration Service will send a reminder letter and renewal application form to the venue approximately 3 months before the expiry date.

Reinstatement

If the holder fails to apply for renewal before the expiry date and the approval expires, it will be reinstated by the receipt by Dorset Registration Service of an application for renewal made by the holder within one month of the expiry date and continue until the application has been dealt with. A renewal will run from the previous expiry date.

Revocation

Dorset Registration Service may revoke a licence if any conditions attached to the approval have been broken.

Reviews

An applicant may seek a review by the local authority of its decision to refuse to grant an approval, to attach local conditions, to refuse to renew an approval or to revoke an approval.

The review must be carried out by a different officer, committee or sub-committee than that which made the decision which is being appealed against. The review panel may confirm the decision, rescind it or vary it with the imposition of fresh or further conditions.

The authority may charge an additional fee for a review of its decision to refuse to grant an approval, to attach local conditions or to refuse to renew an approval.

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The ceremony day

A ceremony day is one of the most important occasions in a couple’s life. It is necessary for Approved Premises and Dorset Registration Service to work together to ensure that each ceremony runs as smoothly as possible, whilst providing the utmost customer service and care.

During inspection, registration staff will discuss ceremony day procedures in order for the applicant to gain a full understanding of what the day entails. The applicant will also have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss any ceremony day procedures already planned for the venue.

Celebration, commemoration or blessing

It is acceptable for civil marriages and civil partnerships to be followed by a celebration, commemoration or occasionally a blessing providing that it is separate from the civil ceremony and is not a religious marriage ceremony.

It is recommended to have a break between the end of the civil ceremony and the start of any blessing e.g. 30 minutes, to allow the registration staff enough time to leave the premises.

If a religious blessing were to regularly follow ceremonies at a particular Approved Premises, or be considered part of the service being offered, there may well be a religious connection which could be incompatible with the licence requirements and Dorset Registration Service may need to consider revoking the licence.

Staff compliance

Dorset Registration Service staff will comply with any rules and regulations affecting the Approved Premises providing that they do not conflict with: 

  • Dorset Registration Service’s requirements and conditions for Approved Premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships
  • Regulations and code of practise issued by the Registrar General
  • The Marriage Acts and Regulations
  • The Civil Partnership Act and Regulations

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Additional ceremony day requirements

Amplification

The venue may be asked to provide a microphone and amplification system if the acoustics of the ceremony room are challenging, to ensure that all guests may hear the ceremony. It may also be necessary for the venue to provide a microphone and amplification system where a garden room or freestanding structure is approved.

Flowers

Flowers and floral arrangements will be at the discretion of the venue and should be suitably placed so as not to restrict the area where the ceremony is to be conducted.

Music

The venue is responsible for ensuring compliance where necessary with Performing Rights and Phonographic Performance Licence requirements.

The venue is required to provide a CD music system for couples who choose to have music played before, during and after their ceremony. The music should be operated by a member of the venue’s staff or someone nominated from the guests.

If live music is required before, during or after a ceremony, space should be made available without compromising the area needed to conduct the ceremony.

During the ceremony the music played should not have any religious connotations.

Ushers

The venue may need to provide ushers to control or assist guests depending on the size of the ceremony party.

Telephone

Registration staff may need access to a telephone in certain circumstances.

Registration Service ceremony fees

The couple are responsible for paying Dorset Council direct. The fees cover the preparation of the civil ceremony, associated work by the Ceremony Team and the attendance of a Celebrant and Registrar.

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Contacts

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