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Government rejects 'common sense' reforms to protect event goers from online ticket touts – here's what you need to know

Buying tickets to live music, sports or theatre events from a resale site often means paying way over the odds – and sometimes even being turned away at the door – due to online ticket touts charging inflated prices and selling invalid or non-existent tickets. Despite this, the Government has rejected "common sense" proposals to clamp down on these sharp practices. Here's what you need to know.

Under the current law, swift and effective action against touts is simply "not possible", according to watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). That's why it made a series of recommendations to the Government in August 2021.

However, the Government has now ruled out introducing new laws to protect consumers, arguing that "other areas of consumer regulation" are a "greater priority".

See our Consumer rights guide for your options if a purchase goes wrong.

Buying tickets from resale sites can be expensive – and risky

Secondary ticketing websites, such as Stubhub and Viagogo, provide a platform through which tickets can be resold, enabling those who can no longer use their ticket to recoup some of the cost.

But they've also enabled online touts to profit from events at the expense of ordinary fans, for example by illegally securing tickets and selling them on at inflated prices – or reselling tickets that can only be used by the original purchaser, meaning you can get turned away at the door.

Resale sites have also previously come under fire for displaying misleading prices, not providing enough information about who is actually selling any given ticket and making it difficult to get a refund when things go wrong. 

FanFair Alliance: 'Problems remain rampant'

In 2018, new laws were introduced which aimed to stop the use of automated software tools, known as 'bots', to buy up tickets in bulk.

But despite this and other measures, campaign group FanFair Alliance – founded by music managers and businesses – says its research has shown that "problems remain rampant" on certain ticket resale platforms. 

The group added: "In August 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published a series of common sense recommendations to the Government that aimed to further protect consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous ticket touts...

"Nineteen months down the line, and, despite overwhelming evidence of continuing bad practice, the Government has comprehensively rejected the CMA's advice. The experiences of consumers appear to have been overlooked entirely."

The rejected proposals would have meant extra protections from online ticket touts

The CMA's set of recommendations, which have now been rejected by the Government, had included:

  • Fighting rip-off prices by limiting the number of tickets resellers can list. Often touts will hoover up lots of tickets for a popular event and sell them on at inflated prices – even when there are supposed to be limits on the number of tickets any one person can buy (for example, two or four). The CMA had proposed a ban on platforms allowing resellers to sell more tickets for an event than they can legally buy in the first place.

  • Cracking down on 'speculative selling' through better information. Touts sometimes list tickets for sale that they don't actually have, with the intention of getting an order and then buying a ticket at face value to fulfil that order. So you might see tickets listed on a site such as Stubhub or Viagogo – but they aren't real.

    This is called 'speculative selling' and it's meant to have been banned on platforms, but it's suspected the touts just give fake information to the platforms. So the CMA suggested ensuring platforms are fully responsible for incorrect information about tickets that are listed for sale on their websites.

  • New powers for authorities to shut down or fine ticket reselling platforms. This would be done through a new system of licensing for platforms that sell secondary tickets, enabling authorities to act quickly and issue sanctions – for example, taking down websites, withdrawing a business's right to operate in the sector or imposing substantial fines.

However, in its official response to the CMA, published on 10 May 2023, the Government said it was "too soon" to consider introducing new laws, as the events market was only now recovering from the impact of Coronavirus, adding that "the nature of tickets and the options for replacing them should you no longer be able to use them has been changing".

What does the Government say?

A spokesperson for the Department for Business and Trade said: "The new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will give the CMA significant new powers to tackle bad businesses ripping off consumers. This includes out-of-court powers for the CMA to determine and sanction breaches of consumer laws.

"We do not therefore see the need for additional regulatory powers or bodies specifically on secondary ticketing, which would add costs that would inevitably be passed onto consumers."

Once the Bill comes into effect, the CMA will be able to award compensation and issue financial penalties where a firm has been found to breach consumer protection laws – though it's not yet clear when the CMA will be able to use these new powers, as the Bill still needs to pass through Parliament. 

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