Changes to the Consumer Rights Act will come into force on the 6 April 2018. The changes add to the existing provisions relevant to re-sellers of tickets for recreational, sporting or cultural events, operators of secondary ticketing facilities (website, app or other online tool) and event organisers, who must now provide additional information to consumers.
What is secondary ticketing?
The "primary" ticket market is how most people obtain tickets to events, this may either be through the venue or event organiser, or through an authorised ticket seller. The "secondary" market encompasses all tickets that are sold after being acquired on the primary market. Where buying on the primary market used to either entail queuing outside a venue, ticket office or record shop, and the secondary market being the touts outside the event, the internet has changed the way that the market operates and many of these transactions are conducted on websites or intermediary platforms.
What do the changes mean?
The changes should be good for consumers as they have more choice, however, it has resulted in growing concern about how the secondary ticketing market operates. This includes pricing and additional fees and charges, consumers being caught by adverse terms and conditions that prohibit re-sale, and also the presence of websites set up to appear genuine, but in reality they are scams and disappear after taking consumers' money and provide no tickets.
Initial rules relating to secondary ticketing came in to force on the 27 May 2015, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, where a ticket is offered for resale on the internet through a secondary ticketing facility (rather than being offered direct for first sale by the event organiser), certain information must be given to the consumer.
A secondary ticketing facility is a website or app etc. (such as eBay or StubHub) where tickets are offered for resale, rather than where the first sale of the ticket is made by or on behalf of the event organiser. The provisions apply variously where a person re-sells a ticket for a recreational, sporting or cultural event in the UK through a secondary ticketing facility. The Act introduced requirements for the information which must be provided to consumers including the precise location of the seat or standing area, the face value of the ticket and any restrictions on use of the ticket. Whether the seller is a secondary ticketing operator or the event organiser, this must be made clear to the buyer where a ticket is re-sold, the event organiser cannot cancel the ticket or blacklist the seller merely because the seller has re-sold or offered to re-sell the ticket, unless this is covered under the terms and conditions (which must not be unfair).
Amendments brought in by the Digital Economy Act 2017, added to the requirement to provide any unique ticket number allowing identification of the ticket. These provisions included the requirement for the government to conduct a review of the consumer protection measures applying to the secondary ticket market. In May 2016, the Independent Review of Consumer Protection Measures concerning Online Secondary Ticketing Facilities, which was led by Professor Michael Waterson, was presented to Parliament. Although the review found that pricing issues were deemed to be a concern by over three quarters of people who responded to the call for evidence, Professor Waterson considers fraud within the market to be a more serious problem. Consumers can choose whether to pay a high ticket price, and know what they are paying for, but if tickets are counterfeit, non-existent, mis-described or invalid, the detriment to consumers may be greater than the difference in price.
Sellers are able to list tickets on various websites or platforms, to increase chances of sale, which can result in them being sold twice. The new requirement to provide the seat or unique ticket reference number has been introduced to ensure that consumers know precisely which ticket they have purchased and avoid any substitution or counterfeiting.
The review concluded that understanding and compliance with the requirements introduced in 2015 was poor and there was very little enforcement, and recommended that a lead body investigate and take action. Specific funding was provided to National Trading Standards, who set up a dedicated team to undertake enforcement. A further recommendation was that secondary ticketing platforms should take more responsibility for identifying sellers who are traders, and if they have made no improvement in this area then licensing may be considered by the government. There are also a number of recommendations made in relation to the primary market to improve transparency in relation to pricing structure, primary distribution channels, ticket availability and refund policies. The full document can be read here.
The rules apply both to business sellers and to individuals selling through secondary ticketing facilities, and also to sellers based overseas selling to consumers in the UK. Other countries are currently reviewing legislation in this area and some have already prohibited or restricted secondary ticket sales.