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Court order gives Viagogo two months to comply with UK consumer rights law

By | Published on Wednesday 28 November 2018

Viagogo

The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority yesterday secured an injunction that will force the always controversial secondary ticketing website Viagogo to fall in line with British consumer rights law. The court order should result in an overhaul of the way tickets are advertised and listed on the resale platform.

The CMA began legal proceedings against Viagogo back in August. The regulator claimed that the company was breaking consumer protection laws and, unlike its competitors, had failed to voluntarily comply with the rules. With that case about to arrive in the high court, Viagogo yesterday committed to make a series of changes to its website to deal with the CMA’s concerns. The court order makes those commitments legally binding.

Under those legally binding commitments, Viagogo’s site will have to ensure that consumers are told the seat number linked to any ticket they are buying and that there is a risk touted tickets could be cancelled by the promoter (published seat numbers, of course, make it easier for anti-touting promoters to cancel tickets in that way).

It will also have to stop giving misleading information about ticket availability which pressures consumers into making a quick purchase without investigating other options; it will make it much easier for people to get a refund under the firm’s frequently bragged about money-back guarantee; and it will ensure that sellers don’t list tickets they don’t actually have yet.

On top of all that, Viagogo will be compelled to provide more information about who is selling any one ticket. This is important because it will enable buyers to distinguish between music fans looking to offload a ticket for a show they can no longer attend from the industrial-level touts that account for a majority of the tickets available on the resale sites. Where people tout tickets as a business the buyer has additional consumer rights.

Publishing seller information should bring some much needed transparency to the resale market. Defenders of the secondary ticketing business have traditionally downplayed the significance of industrial-level touting on the resale platforms and/or accused at least some in the music industry of being complicit by secretly touting their own tickets.

The former claim hasn’t seemed credible for a long time, though there has been some merit to the latter argument at various points. Either way, having more information about the sellers published on the resale sites will provide some clarity over the level of commercial touting, and possibly also on how those touts source their tickets.

Those who oppose industrial-level ticket touting have been calling for all the resale sites to implement measures like these for years. Forcing change required some new laws to be passed and, more importantly, a willingness to enforce existing laws. In the UK, the CMA has led the way in enforcing the law when it comes to the resale sites, while National Trading Standards has taken action against individual touts who have allegedly broken the rules.

Welcoming Viagogo’s new commitments and the court order that makes them legally binding, CMA boss Andrea Coscelli said yesterday: “This court order is a victory for anyone who decides to buy a ticket through Viagogo. We have been clear throughout our investigation that people who use these resale websites must know key facts before parting with their hard-earned money, including what seat they will get and whether there is a risk they might not actually get into the event at all”.

He went on: “Viagogo has agreed to a comprehensive overhaul of its site to ensure it respects the law, just like the other resale sites who have already signed commitments to improve the information they offer and give people a fair deal”.

“Today’s court order must be complied with by mid-January”, he then explained. “The same deadline set for other resale sites that have already agreed to change their practices. It has been secured after Viagogo agreed to address all of the CMA’s concerns, without the need for a trial. The order is legally binding and enforceable by the court”.

For its part Viagogo played up the fact it had reached a settlement with the CMA, without acknowledging just how much effort was needed to get these commitments, nor that a court order was required to ensure the company falls in line. Instead its statement basically said that the changes were part of the firm’s own strategy to become more consumer friendly, rather than a legal obligation to end long-held deliberately anti-consumer policies.

Calling the settlement “ground breaking”, Viagogo insisted that the commitments “reflect a desire to ensure that the consumer has as much information as possible before making their purchase decision”. Meanwhile a spokesperson was quoted as saying “we are pleased that we have been able to work closely with the CMA to come to an agreement that provides even greater transparency to consumers”.

Adam Webb of the anti-touting FanFair Campaign was more frank about what the CMA settlement really meant. “While the UK’s ticket resale market undergoes a long-awaited transformation, Viagogo has effectively become a rogue operator”, he said. “That it’s required a court order to force their compliance with existing legislation is nothing short of extraordinary. Effectively, it means Viagogo have been given until mid-January to overhaul their bad practices. If they fail to do that, they should feel the full force of the law”.

Another long-term campaigner for better regulation of the secondary ticketing market, Sharon Hodgson MP, shared Webb’s perspective. She told reporters: “It’s shocking that it has taken a court order following action taken by the CMA for Viagogo to comply with legislation that they should have been complying with for many years”.

“I would question whether a company that has created thousands of victims and now requires independent monitoring to ensure it complies with UK legislation should be allowed to continue to operate given the risk to consumers”, she went on. “If Viagogo fails to comply with this court order, or breaches any further legislation, I expect immediate court action to be taken against them”.

We will see in the new year if it comes to that.



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