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The online resale of tickets (known as the ‘secondary ticketing market’) applies to recreational, sporting or cultural events in the UK. Secondary ticketing, especially pricing, is a subject that attracts much public interest. Recently, there have been various investigations of this sector resulting in some enforcement activity.

Following the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the Government commissioned an independent review of the effectiveness of consumer protection measures in the secondary ticketing market. Professor Waterson’s report, published in May 2016, made nine recommendations to make this market work better for consumers. Karen Bradley, then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, hosted roundtable meetings with enforcement bodies and stakeholders in November 2016. The Government’s written response to the report was published on 13 March 2017. As well as accepting the report’s recommendations in full, the Government said Parliament would be invited to consider proposals for reform of the secondary ticketing market within the context of the Digital Economy Bill.

The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee has held two one-off evidence sessions into ticket abuse. The first session took place on 15 November 2016 and considered the problem of software being used by secondary ticketing businesses to harvest tickets from primary sellers, the second session was held on 21 March 2017.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017. In respect of secondary ticketing, the Act:  

  • Criminalises the use of bots to purchase tickets in excess of a maximum, number.
  • Puts the Information Commissioner’s Office Direct Marketing Code of Practice (currently in draft) on a statutory footing.
  • Requires sellers to provide any unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location.

In 2018 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media, acted against four secondary ticketing websites in respect of misleading presentation of pricing information. Separately, in June 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began a compliance review of the secondary ticketing market and in December 2016 it conducted a formal investigation into suspected breaches of consumer protection law.

Following on from this investigation, the CMA began enforcement action in November 2017 against four secondary ticketing websites. Three of those sites made a formal commitment in April 2018 to overhaul the way they do business. In respect of the fourth site, Viagogo, the CMA issued legal proceedings which resulted in a court order being made on 27 November 2018. The CMA suspended its court action in September 2019 after Viagogo addressed concerns about how it presented information to consumers.

More recently, on 16 August 2021, the CMA published Secondary ticketing – Recommendations to government for improving consumer protection. In this report, the CMA set out its concerns about continued non-compliance with consumer law in the secondary tickets sector. Its recommendations include a requirement that all secondary ticketing sites acquire a licence to operate in the UK. In its formal response to the CMA recommendations, published on 10 May 2023, the Government said it was “too soon to conclude that the only way forward is further legislation focused on this market”.

The new Online Safety Act 2023 includes a broad duty on search engines to tackle fraudulent advertising. The largest platforms would need to put in place proportionate systems and processes to prevent fraudulent adverts being published or hosted on their service.

This briefing paper outlines the current regulation of the secondary ticketing market. It also considers past enforcement activity and the CMA’s recommendations for stronger laws to tackle illegal ticket resales.

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