George Robinson is Director of Fan Freedom UK, a consumer rights group.
In the Lords earlier this week, during the passage of the Consumer Rights Bill, we saw what will hopefully be the last of the numerous compromises the Conservative Party has had to make with its coalition partners during its period in office.
After opposing any legislation which would limit the secondary ticket market, the Government has now performed a volte-face and caved in to the demands of a small group of peers, led by Lord Moynihan, who have added an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill.
This amendment will force anyone wanting to sell a ticket to a live event on an online platform having to divulge far more information than they do currently, including their full-name, seat number and the face value of the ticket.
Ostensibly, this U-turn was to stop the bill from running out of time and falling before the election – not surprisingly, given that it is a centre-piece of the government’s current legislative activity. Others are suggesting, however, that fan rights have been thrown out of the window after behind-the-scenes pressure from the Liberal Democrats, who have tacitly supported these measures since they were first introduced, and the powerful sports governing bodies and event promoters.
Politically, it seems an easy win. Nobody likes to see ticket touts loitering around venues, advertising tickets at many times their face value. It feels like a con. This has understandably seen most consumers instead take the far safer route of buying tickets through online marketplaces which offer more robust guarantees to fans.
In practical terms, however, the Lords’ amendment will now prohibit many fans from selling their tickets through these platforms for fear of event organisers using their information, cancelling their ticket and blacklisting them from ever attending that particular venue again. This is a serious issue – and an outcome that has happened to hundreds of fans already.
It was argued in the Lords that safeguards have been put in place against blacklisting, to ensure that these kind of practises can only happen if they are written into the terms and conditions of the ticket.
The fact is, however, that blacklisting is already provided in a ticket’s terms and conditions by the vast majority of event organisers – making these protections totally meaningless under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations. It is now a distinct possibility that someone who cannot make an event because of illness or personal reasons will have no reasonable way of shifting their ticket.
Given this, we feel that the amendment in question is a total mess, which completely fails to deal with the real problems affecting the industry. While it may, on the face of it, seem to favour of consumer rights, it is instead a consummate victory for event organisers over ordinary fans.
Sporting organisations and the music industry have long resented not having complete control over ticket prices, and in the Consumer Rights Bill they have finally found the vehicle which will give them a legal monopoly of the market.
Polling by Opinium shows that voter sentiment is very much against this approach: 80 per cent of the public support the right to resell tickets, 64 per cent believe that that they should be allowed to pay more than the face value of a ticket to get into a sold-out event and 66 per cent believe that event organisers should not be allowed to restrict what happens to a ticket once they have sold it.
Given the views expressed in these statistics, will the amendment stop anyone from trying to sell their tickets? Of course it won’t. Like all attempts at prohibition it will fail, instead pushing people back onto the streets and back into the arms of touts. As Lord Borwick said in Tuesday’s debate, “all the tickets which the sports and music bodies are concerned about will now go back to being sold in pubs, clubs and car parks, where no consumer protection exists.”
It is also worth asking why event organisers have lobbied so hard to get the amendment introduced. The truth is that they want to ensure they keep as much of the profit made as possible, and that any unwanted tickets will have to be resold through them. When they then place these tickets back onto the market, you can bet they will then hike the prices up as much as they want. This is something that event organisers have already been found guilty of in the past.
By stopping fans from selling tickets themselves, they’re cutting out the competition. If the Government wants to look at how it can really limit egregious practices in the secondary ticket market, it should start by looking at this issue first; not by taking away the rights of ordinary fans.
There is one piece of good news within the amendment, however, which may help remedy the current situation. The legislation as put forward by the Lords dictates that there will need to be a statutory review of the ticket market taking place within the next 12 months. This should, hopefully, give the next government a chance to repeal this legislation – as long as the Conservatives secure a workable majority. It is also an opportunity to look at the genuinely serious issues affecting the industry, as outlined above.
The House of Commons will be voting on the amendment in early March, where it will be voted through as a formality now that all three parties support the measure. It is still important, however, to make the voice of genuine fans heard and to focus MPs’ minds on the upcoming review. If you agree with this and want to ensure that MPs properly hear the other side of the argument, we urge you to write to your MP now through our website. With enough support, this should help us fight back against this dangerous piece of compromise legislation.