The British government has rejected recommendations that tighter regulation of the secondary ticketing market be introduced, a move that was suggested by the UK’s Competition And Markets Authority almost two years ago.
The Department For Business And Trade has confirmed it is in no mood to step up the regulation of ticket touts and the resale platforms they use, reckoning that it is important for a competitive market to exist and that – following the COVID-19 pandemic – “it is too soon to conclude that the only way forward is further legislation”.
Campaigners for more regulation of secondary ticketing have reacted angrily to this news, saying that the government has “given bad actors a free pass” and that “the experiences of consumers appear to have been overlooked entirely”.
It was in August 2021 that the CMA made its recommendations to the government, it being responsible for ensuring the secondary ticketing sites comply with existing regulations. Among other things, it called for new legislation to clamp down on the bulk-buying of tickets by touts and the practice of speculatively selling tickets, where sellers list tickets for sale on secondary platforms that they do not actually possess.
In response to the recommendations this week, Department For Business And Trade’s Parliamentary Under Secretary Of State Kevin Hollingdrake MP wrote that “the government believes in the power of competitive markets to give consumers choice and flexibility” and that “this applies to both the primary and secondary markets in event tickets”.
“It is right”, he said, “that consumers have the ability to sell on tickets they no longer want or are able to use, and that there is a market in such sale and resale”.
“Technology is improving the consumer experience in both security and flexibility of ticketing but as with all online purchases, consumers must be careful in making purchasing decisions and ensure they understand what they are buying. While many operate in the secondary ticketing market successfully, some consumers are left feeling misled or ripped off and this is not acceptable”.
However, he went on: “It is currently difficult to make a detailed assessment of the impact of trading standards and CMA enforcement work, given the massive disruption to the event industry in the last two years, caused by the coronavirus pandemic”.
“Events across the UK are only now beginning to proceed on a predictable basis and that has significantly impacted the volume of tickets coming to either the primary or secondary ticket markets. The nature of tickets and the options for replacing them should you no longer be able to use them has been changing and the primary market is still developing new approaches. As part of that we would expect to see greater use of technology but the impacts of this on the consumer need to be understood”.
He also stated that the outcome of the CMA forcing Viagogo to sell off StubHub – the rival it acquired in 2019 – “remains to be seen”, and that this situation should be monitored in order to track its effect on the market.
Turning to some of the CMA’s recommendations specifically, Hollingdrake said that the government was wary of “creating a dedicated enforcer to be funded by a levy on the secondary ticket market” to oversee adherence to existing legislation, as the costs of this would likely be passed on to consumers.
In addition, he said that the government would not put a cap on the number of tickets allowed to be sold by one individual on secondary platforms as “it appears the uncapped market may still provide a service of value to some consumers”.
“I feel it is too soon to conclude that the only way forward is further legislation focused on this market”, he wrote. “As you are aware, there are a number of improvements to other aspects of consumer law which we have now published in our response to the 2021 consultation. These will be our priority in the immediate future, rather than changes to the secondary ticketing regime specifically”.
Campaigners say that this response ignores the negative experience of consumers and gives commercial ticket resellers a “free pass” to continue engaging in practices that are not in the best interests of music fans.
Campaign manager of the FanFair Alliance, Adam Webb, said: “In August 2021, the Competition And Markets Authority published a series of common sense recommendations to the government that aimed to further protect consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous ticket touts and parasitical ticket resale sites”.
“These included new measures to clamp down on the unlawful bulk-buying of tickets and large-scale speculative fraud, where rogue traders list tickets for sale that they do not possess. Research by FanFair Alliance has shown these problems remain rampant on certain secondary ticketing platforms”.
“Nineteen months down the line, and, despite overwhelming evidence of continuing bad practice, the government has today comprehensively rejected the CMA’s advice – without, we believe, consulting with experts, campaigners or the live music industry”, he added.
“The experiences of consumers appear to have been overlooked entirely. Although much progress has been made in recent years to tame the UK’s black market for tickets, FanFair Alliance shares the views of the CMA that further action is still required to tackle these evident and ongoing problems with online secondary ticketing”.
Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Ticket Abuse Sharon Hodgson MP commented: “In August 2021, the CMA made it clear to the government that a handful of additional safeguards could help reduce the scale of unlawful online ticket touting, and better protect consumers. Nineteen months on, and all their recommendations have been rejected. We are still struggling to understand why, and on what basis”.
“Rather than improving the capacity of enforcement agencies to clamp down on malpractice, the government has effectively given bad actors a free pass to continue acquiring tickets in bulk to popular events and to engage in speculative and fraudulent selling”, she went on.
“These individuals can make extraordinary profits at the expense of ordinary fans who are left ripped off and out of pocket. The UK is rightly proud of its live event industry, but an uncontrolled black market risks harming the consumer experience and wreaking untold damage on the sector overall”.
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