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Government extends rules for ticket resellers, publishes guidelines for the touts

By | Published on Thursday 15 February 2018

Live Music

Culture Minister Matt Hancock seized ownership of the “look at me, I’m banning the bots” line at the start of the year. So now UK Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths has jumped on the ‘fuck-the-touts’ bandwagon by declaring five big new rules to regulate online ticket resellers. True, most of the new rules are actually old rules. But at least one is brand new, and another is clarified. So that’s two things. Hancock only had one bots ban. So, that’s a win for Griffiths. Well done him.

In a statement issued this morning, the UK government’s Department For Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy declared: “Fans of live events are set to benefit from new rules which will demand more information from sellers on secondary ticket websites. Under the new rules, which will come into force in April 2018, ticket resellers will be required to provide purchasers with additional detailed information about tickets including the location of seats, disclosure of any restrictions and the original price of the ticket itself”.

Actually, all of those requirements already exist in UK law, them coming from the 2015 Consumer Rights Act. It was back-bench MPs Sharon Hodgson and Mike Weatherley who managed to sneak some secondary ticketing regulation into that round of consumer rights legislation. That act also instigated the Waterson Report on touting and, arguably, motivated the much more proactive and organised campaigning we’ve seen from the music community against industrial-level ticket touting and the websites the touts utilise.

However, Griffiths’s announcement does provide some clarity on exactly what ticket restrictions must be declared when a tout is touting. Also, there is a brand new obligation to provide the unique ticket number of any ticket being resold, assuming there is such a thing.

This is a key development for those promoters who have been proactive in cancelling touted tickets. The terms and conditions of a ticket usually state that it cannot be resold, meaning a show promoter can cancel it if it is then touted. Some promoters have been doing just that in a general bid to encourage people to stop buying tickets from unofficial sellers.

However, to cancel a touted ticket a promoter needs to know that it has been touted. If resellers comply with the rule to publish seat numbers, that might enable a promoter to identify and then cancel a ticket. Although, up until arena-sized venues, music shows often don’t have numbered seating. Therefore an additional rule to also publish a specific ticket number will help with that process.

To work, that will require promoters and primary ticket sellers to allocate unique ticket numbers and be very clear about it. Most ticket transactions already come with unique codes of some description, but to capitalise on this new obligation for resellers, promoters may need to provide a much clearer unique number for each ticket sold. Touts and the touting platforms would then be obliged to ensure this information is declared when a ticket is advertised.

Commenting on both the not really new and the actually new secondary ticketing regulations, Griffiths said: “All too often people are left feeling ripped off when buying tickets from resale websites. Whether it’s a major music festival or a stadium concert, people want to know they’re paying a fair price for tickets to see the events they love”.

Noting the aforementioned ban on the bots some touts use to hoover up large quantities of tickets from primary ticketing sites, and the Competition & Market Authority’s ongoing investigation into the secondary market, Griffiths continued: “We are already taking steps to crack down on touts using bots to bulk buy tickets for resale and the CMA is investigating suspected breaches of consumer protection law online. Today we are going even further, making it easier for consumers to understand what they are buying to help save them from rip off ticket prices”.

As part of today’s announcement, new guidelines have been published for ticket resellers, summarising the various consumer rights and trading standards laws that impact on touting and the penalties for breaking those laws. Griffiths has also confirmed that later this year a new green paper will be published examining how government can help people “engage with markets to find the best deals”.

Commenting on the government’s latest moves on secondary ticketing, the anti-touting campaign group FanFair stated this morning: “Under the Consumer Rights Act, secondary ticketing sites and their sellers have a shared responsibility to provide certain key information whenever a ticket is listed for resale”.

“They must show would-be buyers the original ticket’s face value, it’s specific location, and details of any restrictions relevant to it’s use. With this updated guidance we now have clarification that ‘restrictions’ also include resale restrictions. For instance, if the original terms and conditions state that a ticket is personalised and ID is required to gain entry, secondary sites must make this information clear”.

On the new rule, it added: “From April, event organisers will also have an opportunity to better protect standing tickets by identifying them with a unique ticket number or UTN. Secondary platforms must provide this UTN if such a ticket is listed for resale”.

“If properly enforced, we believe these clarifications and updates will better protect UK audiences, artists and event organisers. They should also provide greater clarity to secondary ticketing platforms of their legal responsibilities, and increase overall transparency in what is still a murky and under-regulated sector”.