Following a lengthy investigation, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced that it is to take enforcement action against secondary ticketing websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law.
What is a secondary ticket website?
Secondary ticket websites enable individuals or businesses to re-sell tickets that they have bought for any events such as concerts, football matches or other sporting events.
When functioning properly, these can assist fans in getting tickets for events that they want to see and also allow tickets to be sold on where they genuinely cannot be used. Unfortunately some of these secondary ticket websites fail to provide adequate information on the tickets to the consumers.
What legislation governs secondary ticketing sales?
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 – Businesses are required to give consumers all the information they need to make informed transactional decisions.
Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 – These apply where contracts are concluded online and require businesses to give consumers important information before they buy.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 – This introduced specific information requirements in relation to the sale of secondary tickets. They require sellers (whether businesses or consumers) and secondary ticket platforms to provide certain specified information about tickets (e.g. face value, seat location and usage restrictions) to potential buyers. It also imposes a duty on secondary ticket platforms to report criminal activity connected with the sale of tickets through their platform. Offending sites face fines of up to £5,000.
Any advertising should also comply with the self-regulatory UK Advertising Codes which are administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Summary of CMA Investigation
July 2012 – the Office of Fair Trading launched an investigation into the secondary ticketing market to determine whether consumers were being provided with all the information they needed before buying from secondary ticket websites.
March 2015 – the CMA (which took over the functions of the Office of Fair Trading in April 2014) received undertakings from the four largest UK secondary ticket platforms that they would build on their existing practices and give improved information to buyers about tickets listed on their sites, including:-
- information on restrictions on entry and view that may apply to the ticket
- whether or not multiple seats that are listed together are located together
- whether there are any additional charges not included in the listed ticket price
- the face value of the ticket
- a contact email address for buyers to use if there is a problem with the ticket
The CMA also wrote an open letter to secondary ticket business sellers to raise awareness of CMA’s expectations in relation to the resale of tickets, providing guidance for future conduct and emphasising the position under the existing legislation.
June 2016 – the CMA launched a compliance review focusing on the four secondary ticket platforms, including a review of their websites, to consider the platforms’ compliance with the undertaking provided to the CMA in 2015, as well as with other legislative provisions.
December 2016 – the CMA opened an enforcement investigation into suspected breaches of consumer protection law in the online consumer secondary tickets market following concerns identified in its compliance review that the full range of information required by consumer protection law when re-selling tickets was not being provided to consumers. The specific concerns related to the lack of transparency over who is buying tickets in the primary market and making sure that consumers who buy tickets from the secondary market are aware that there is a risk that they will not be allowed entry to the venue with the re-sold ticket.
March 2017 – Professor Waterson, an economics professor at Warwick University, carried out an independent review commissioned jointly by the Secretaries of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Culture, Media and Sport on the secondary tickets sector. Following the review, Professor Waterson recommended that the CMA should work with other consumer protection bodies and with the live events industry to develop best practice guidance on the application of unfair terms legislation to ticketing terms and conditions.
November 2017 – the CMA announced that it will take enforcement action against secondary ticketing websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law. It identified widespread concerns about the information consumers are given and gathered evidence which it considers reveal breaches of the law. The CMA has raised its concerns with a number of these websites and requires them to take action where necessary.
The CMA has also widened the scope of its investigation based on new information gathered during its investigation, more specifically it intends to also investigate the following issues:-
- If claims about the availability and popularity of tickets create a misleading impression or rush customers into making a buying decision (“Pressure Selling”);
- Whether customers can get their money back under website guarantees;
- Instances where businesses advertise tickets for sale that they do not own and may therefore not be able to supply; and
- Concerns about whether the organisers of some sporting events have sold tickets as a primary seller directly through a secondary ticket website without making this obvious to consumers.
The CMA will also be engaging with event organisers to help them to avoid being challenged for using unfair terms to restrict the resale of their tickets. The CMA has not yet reached a final view on whether the practices it is concerned about breach consumer protection law. If necessary, the CMA will take action through the courts to enforce that law. Ultimately it is for the courts, not the CMA to decide whether a legal term is fair or unfair.
Some secondary ticketing websites have already made changes to their practices in relation to the CMA’s areas of concerns and with the continued investigation, other secondary ticketing websites may follow suit.