Ticket resale clampdown rejected by government

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The government has rejected calls by a cross-party group of MPs to tighten up laws on "industrial-scale touting" by websites that resell tickets.

The sites act as market places that allow sellers to charge what they like for concerts, plays and sports events.

They often earn a commission from selling on the tickets.

The All-Party Group on Ticket Abuse is calling for a system of compensation for fans who fall victim to scams or cancelled tickets.

The MPs say the sites should also be forced to make clear where the tickets come from.

But a spokesman for the the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the government has "no plans to introduce new regulations on the secondary ticket market".

Sought-after tickets

The spokesman said the DCMS "continues to encourage improvements so all customers can purchase tickets in a secure environment".

The government wants to see event organisers work with ticket sellers on a voluntary basis to limit secondary sales through steps such as bar-coding technology, named ticket-holders and staggered ticket release.

Kate Bush

When tickets for a popular event go on sale, they are often snapped up in bulk either manually or using automated software in order to sell them on at a profit.

For example, a sought-after ticket to see Kate Bush - which originally sold at £49 - is currently being for £490 on one resale site. This is subject to a processing fee of 18% - bumping up the price to £578.99, even though the promoters have tried to curb touting by insisting primary ticket holders have photo ID.

BBC News last month reported some theatre-lovers were paying more than £2,000 for two tickets (with a £20-£35 face value) to see the Donmar Warehouse's Coriolanus. That included a £255 booking fee, a £9.95 shipping charge and £51 VAT.

Secondary ticketing websites can also allow consumers access to tickets at a cheaper price if the event is in less demand or if the seller is eager to make a sale quickly.

'Illegal harvest'

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, the all-party group's co-chair, voiced her concerns on the BBC's Today programme.

"If it was just fans selling on tickets to other fans, that would be fine," Mrs Hodgson explained.

"Originally that is what it was but now we have what we are calling industrial-scale touting."

Start Quote

Now we have what we are calling industrial-scale touting”

End Quote Labour MP Sharon Hodgson Co-chair, All-Party Group on Ticket Abuse

"People are using computer programmes that are illegal to harvest up huge quantities of tickets the minute they go on sale before members of the public can even get them, and then selling them on through these secondary platforms."

The report recommends that resale websites should be legally required to:

  • Publish full information about the tickets listed through them
  • Publish information on the seller
  • Declare where the tickets have been given to them by the event organiser
  • Check the provenance of the tickets where someone is trying to sell more than 20
  • Guaranteed compensation if people fall victim to ticket scams or cancelled tickets by buying them through resale websites

In addition, the group wants to see the creation of a national police agency responsible for tracking down and prosecuting the people perpetrating ticket crimes.

'Classic entrepreneurs'

Viagogo, one major resale website, backed the government in its decision not to legislate.

Start Quote

We don't believe the government should interfere in what is a voluntary transaction between two parties”

End Quote Oliver Wheeler Viagogo

The site's spokesman, Oliver Wheeler, told BBC Radio 4: "We completely support the need for consumers to be protected from fraud and from having bad experiences with ticket resale.

"However, we don't believe the government should interfere in what is a voluntary transaction between two parties. When you have bought something, whether that is a house, car or ticket, it is up to you what you do with that."

Newly-appointed Culture Secretary Sajid Javid defended the operation of a free market in tickets before his elevation to the front bench.

Speaking against a private member's bill brought in by Mrs Hodgson in 2011, he said: "Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs, because they fill a gap in the market that they have identified."

He went on to say that "they provide a service that can help people who did not obtain a supply of tickets in the original sale".

As long as they made their purchase "genuinely and lawfully", Mr Javid added, "there should be no government restriction on someone's ability to sell them".

Renewed pressure

The government is also under pressure to curb the secondary market in tickets for major sporting events.

One hotly contested area in the secondary ticket selling row is the issue of the terms and conditions, which are often part of the deal when we buy a ticket for a live event. They will stipulate certain criteria upon which the ticket-buyer can resell a ticket - or, in the case of the Glastonbury Festival, make absolutely clear they cannot.

The problem for rights holders and venues is that T&Cs are not legally binding. The only recourse a venue has if a ticket is resold in contravention of its T&Cs is to cancel it. The trouble is they generally don't know it has been resold, because ticket reselling companies don't require sellers to reveal who they are, or specific details about the ticket (such as seat number or location).

Glastonbury's organisers have stopped this happening by using photo ID and stipulating that only the person in the photo can use the ticket. To resell it would require the secondary buyer to pretend to be the person in the photo, which is not only breaking the T&Cs but also fraudulent - an altogether more serious matter.

What appears to really annoy people is when theatre tickets to popular shows in subsidised venues such as the National Theatre or Donmar Warehouse - where ticket prices have been kept low through a taxpayers' subsidy in order to make them affordable to a broad audience - are then resold at vastly inflated prices on the secondary market.

But because it's not actually illegal to do so, and the venues have very little way of finding out that a seat has been re-sold, there is not much anyone can currently do to stop the practice.

A private member's bill brought in by Labour's Nick Smith is currently before Parliament. It focuses on access to affordable tickets for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but has little chance of becoming law without government support.

Critics of the current system point to the findings of Operation Podium, the Metropolitan Police's dedicated programme to prevent organised crime - and especially ticket crime - at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Reporting on the operation in 2013, the Met said: "Consideration must be given to introducing legislation to govern the unauthorised sale of event tickets. The lack of legislation in this area enables fraud and places the public at risk of economic crime."

Ministers have previously emphasised that ticketing regulations for the London 2012 Games were "exceptional" and a mandated requirement of winning the bid.

Police ought to use existing laws to address cases of fraud and event organisers ought to take steps to limit the secondary market on a voluntary basis, the government stresses.

In 2013, government spokesman Lord Gardiner of Kimble pointed to measures taken by Glastonbury Festival's organisers as "a very successful example of that".

There have been successful prosecutions in this area. In 2012, a court forced Viagogo to hand over the names and addresses of people who sold on tickets to England rugby matches via its website.

The resale of football tickets is illegal in the UK under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, unless the resale is authorised by the organiser of the match.

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