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Ticket websites 'must do more to help consumers identify touts'

Published 26/05/2016

Business Secretary Sajid Javid ordered a review of secondary ticketing
Business Secretary Sajid Javid ordered a review of secondary ticketing

Consumers should have access to details identifying online ticket touts, according to recommendations in a Government-commissioned report into the booming industry.

Professor Michael Waterson, from Warwick University, said there was "work to be done" within both the primary and secondary markets for ticketing, and challenged secondary platforms to ensure sellers "fully observe the rules" set out in the Consumer Rights Act by providing details such as the face value of the ticket, the exact seat location and any restrictions.

He said enforcement action should be taken if sellers flouted the rules.

His review of online secondary ticketing, commissioned by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, follows repeated warnings to consumers that ticket touts are increasingly prevalent and turning to social media to dupe unsuspecting customers out of hundreds of pounds at a time.

Professor Waterson also recommended that secondary platforms "play a role in identifying traders and ensuring their details are provided to consumers".

He said primary ticket vendors should guard against the possibility of mass buying by individuals who have no intention of attending the event by using "bots", which deprived ordinary customers of the chance to buy tickets at the original price.

And more should be done to educate consumers about the how the market operates, he concluded.

Professor Waterson said: "I approached this review without preconceptions. In pursuing it, I attempted to engage widely, to develop an analytical understanding of the ticketing industry as a whole, and to provide practical recommendations for change where necessary."

Business minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: "I would like to thank Professor Waterson for completing this review. His work has provided significant insights into the ticketing market.

"This is a topic that attracts great interest and a wide range of views, so an independent voice is very welcome. The Government will respond to this report in due course."

The Local Government Association warned last week that music and sports fans lost more than £5 million to online ticket fraud last year, up from £3.35 million in 2014.

Customers who bought fake tickets lost an average of £444 per transaction, with social media sites accounting for nearly half of all reported scams.

The watchdog Which? has also warned that tickets to popular events have been appearing on re-sale sites immediately - or even before - they go on general sale.

The secondary ticketing "stitch-up" has left consumers forced to buy tickets for far higher than the face value as soon as they are released, Which? said.

While it is not illegal to resell tickets for profit, it is thought that some of the selling patterns are only possible because of the use of "bots" - computer programmes pre-loaded with different names, addresses and credit card details which are used to target ticketing agents.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, consumers must be notified of any restrictions on the tickets, all seating details and the original face value of the ticket.

But Which? found these rules being repeatedly flouted on all the major secondary ticketing sites.

Shadow sports minister Clive Efford said: "The Government was forced to concede to a number of Labour's demands on the secondary ticketing market during the passage of the Consumer Rights Act.

"This report shows that secondary ticketing companies are ignoring existing regulations and that there is no enforcement taking place.

"Due to the Government dragging its feet on this issue sports fans have been needlessly ripped off for tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup, the Ashes and currently the European Football Championship.

"The Government must ensure that the regulations already in place are being enforced."

A spokeswoman for StubHub, the online ticket-seller owned by eBay, said: "We welcome Professor Waterson's recognition of the benefits for consumers from the secondary market and his decision to reject further legislation at this stage, including price caps and any general resale bans or bans for 'crown jewel' events.

"We also welcome the suggested action on bots and the other measures which are directed towards the primary market.

"But we are concerned that there are still insufficient legal safeguards to stop event organisers using row and seat number details to cancel without compensation tickets offered for resale.

"Transparency should not come at the expense of people's right to resell their tickets."

Which? director of policy and campaigns Alex Neill said: " Our research found extensive examples of tickets being sold unlawfully so it's right that secondary ticketing sites have clearly been told they are responsible for complying with the law. The Government and Trading Standards must now ensure they can take strong action to punish any sites found breaking the rules.

"Fans are rightly frustrated when they see tickets being sold on the secondary market at hugely inflated prices, particularly when they are being sold on an industrial scale. So it's good to see that the review has acknowledged there is much more the industry needs to do to combat this problem. They must take this opportunity to show they are willing to take action, otherwise people will be looking to the Government to step in."

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