During a debate on a Statutory Instrument - Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Sharon called for further funding for enforcement agencies with a particular focus on the secondary ticket market.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):
I am going to speak about something slightly different, which is what I think should be in the statutory instrument. As Members probably know—if they do not, it is probably because I have not banged on about it enough—I chair the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, in which capacity I wish to speak today. I feel strongly that with this SI the Government have missed a great opportunity to address some concerns that have been expressed to me over the years.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 refers explicitly to secondary ticketing. Despite that important legislation, fans continue to be ripped off by secondary ticket touts who sell tickets for huge profits to genuine fans. Some touts do this regardless of whether the ticket actually exists, and without any regard for existing legislation. This leaves people out of pocket, frustrated, disappointed and unable to attend an event that they have saved for and looked forward to. The 2015 Act exists to protect consumers, which is what we are discussing, but it is failing to do so because of insufficient enforcement. Without sufficient enforcement, it becomes a moot Act, if there can be such a thing. That is why I wish to make the case today for more funding for our enforcement agencies, as I believe that enforcement is a significant aspect of the 2015 Act that is missing from this SI. I hope the Government will consider rectifying that.
National trading standards
“delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement…Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a ‘safety net’ to limit unsafe consumer goods entering the UK”.
To perform this huge task, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides national trading standards and Trading Standards Scotland with just £14 million. With that small amount of funding, trading standards is expected to protect consumers from scams and cyber-crime and to protect UK borders and public safety. Does the Minister agree that £14 million per year for this huge responsibility, which requires investigation, prevention, safeguarding and enforcement, is really not enough to fulfil the task to any acceptable level, and that it must—I know it does—leave NTS officers continually frustrated and overworked? Has the Minister made any assessment of how much funding NTS needs to fulfil its role to the highest standard?
The 2015 Act makes it clear that sellers must provide seat, row and block numbers, as well as the unique ticket ID number, if the event organisers insist on it, yet there are still examples of secondary ticketing sites that do not supply this information. Touts are therefore still able to operate illegally and rip off genuine fans without any serious implications. The legislation exists—we are talking about it—but despite a long-running Competition and Markets Authority investigation, enforcement is still lacking. That means it is up to organisers, venues and promoters to monitor secondary ticket touts, cancel tickets when necessary, and respond to disappointed fans who are denied access with invalid tickets. Such expectations are unreasonable for organisers, venues and promoters. At a recent meeting of the all-party group, an event organiser said:
“We don’t want to be the enforcers, but if agencies aren’t there then we have to step in.”
Does the Minister agree that this is not an acceptable expectation for organisers, venues and promoters?
As the House knows, I have been working on this issue for a long time now, and I am convinced that ticket touts will continue to operate outside the law until there is a sustainably funded agency to ensure that the existing legislation—this legislation—is enforced. That is why the SI is deficient. Recently, we saw two English teams fly to Madrid for the champions league final. I have to admit that I am not a fan of either team—I do not know whether you are, Madam Deputy Speaker—but many fans flew over, too, paying out for their flights, transfers and accommodation, on top of as much as £5,000 per ticket, going up in some cases to £10,000 per ticket, only to be told, just hours before the game, that the tickets they had purchased from secondary ticket sites did not exist and were cancelled. I can only imagine the sheer disappointment, anger and frustration that those fans went through, even though the 2015 Act should have made it impossible for that to happen. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence: it is something I hear about all too often from the excellent campaign groups Victim of Viagogo and the FanFair Alliance.
If the Government want to protect consumers—which is what we are here to do—they must invest in our enforcement agencies to ensure that the existing legislation is totally adhered to. I know that what I have talked about is slightly outwith the scope of the SI, and I am so grateful for the House’s indulgence and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to talk about the funding of national trading standards, but I hope the Minister has heard what I have had to say, even though I have sneaked it in as I have done, and will look into the issue as soon as possible.