10 Dec 2018

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has taken a major step to ensure consumers are protected against a secondary ticketing website that failed to address its misconduct.

The move comes after a major CMA-led investigation into questionable practices by a number of online ticket resellers. The CMA is the government department responsible for supporting business competition and tackling anti-competitive behaviour, particularly in the area of consumer protection. In simple terms, the CMA helps to stop consumers being ripped off.

CMA investigation

As part of the secondary ticketing consumer legislation which came into force on 27 May 2015, the government carried out an independent review of the legal provisions, followed by a joint consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

This prompted the CMA to launch an enforcement investigation into suspected breaches of consumer protection law in the online secondary ticketing market. Starting in December 2016, the investigation covered:

  • the practice of ‘pressure selling’ – making misleading claims about the availability and popularity of tickets to rush customers into buying
  • whether customers had difficulty getting their money back under a website’s guarantee
  • speculative selling, where businesses advertise tickets for sale that they don’t yet own, and may not be able to supply
  • whether sporting event organisers sold tickets as a primary seller through a secondary ticket website, without making this clear to consumers
  • whether sufficient information was provided about the seller; any restrictions on the use of resold tickets which could result in a person being denied access to an event; and the location of a seat in the venue.

As a result, the CMA began enforcement action against four major secondary ticketing websites in November 2017. Three of those sites – StubHub, GETMEIN! and Seatwave – made formal commitments in April 2018 to overhaul the way they do business. The fourth, Viagogo, failed to make any changes to its practices, prompting the CMA to bring High Court legal proceedings against the company, for suspected breaches of consumer protection law.

The order

In November 2018, the CMA secured a court order requiring Viagogo to overhaul its business practices to fully comply with the law. In particular, the CMA felt Viagogo was providing misleading information about the availability and popularity of tickets, so customers were rushed into buying decisions or made the wrong choice.

Viagogo must now:

  • ensure their information is not misleading and does not effectively force customers to make rushed buying decisions
  • ensure customers are aware of the face value of tickets for sale through its site
  • provide information about who is selling the ticket, so people can benefit from stronger legal rights when buying from a business, and preventing the sale of tickets a seller does not own and may not be able to supply
  • inform customers if there is a risk they will be refused entry at the door, and which seat they will get
  • make it easy for people to get their money back under Viagogo’s guarantee if something goes wrong.

It has until mid-January 2019 to comply. If they fail to do so, the company faces a fine, and the individuals involved could face imprisonment.

A triumph for consumers

This court order is a significant outcome for consumers and helps to ensure their rights are protected quickly, without needing further legal action. It shows the CMA is determined to protect consumers from retailers involved in bad practice, and serves as a cautionary tale, especially for those in the secondary ticketing sector.