A committee of MPs has taken the highly unusual step of urging consumers to boycott the ticket resale firm Viagogo, criticising Google for promoting the website and calling for a review of laws against ticket touting.
In a report on the live music industry, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee criticised Viagogo for “misleading” consumers, many of whom stumbled upon the site via paid-for ads on Google.
The report adds to mounting legal and regulatory pressure on Viagogo, which is based in Switzerland but sells tens of thousands of tickets for UK music, sport and theatre events. The company has come under fire for its controversial business practices, including alleged breaches of consumer law, a legal spat with Ed Sheeran, and accusations of “callous profiteering” from charity events.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is seeking to have the company found in contempt of court for failing to publish details regarding touts and information about the tickets they are selling, such as restrictions on resale that might lead to buyers being turned away.
While the MPs welcomed the CMA’s action, they said Viagogo and other so-called secondary ticketing platforms had “caused distress for too many music fans for too long”.
“We regret that such time and public money is being spent on bringing the platforms, principally Viagogo, into line with consumer law that they should have complied with from the outset,” the report said. “We believe that Viagogo has yet to prove itself a trustworthy operator given its history of resisting compliance, court orders and parliamentary scrutiny, and flouting consumer law.”
The committee said vulnerable consumers remained at risk while the competition regulator’s legal action was ongoing.
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP and committee chair, said it had taken the highly unusual step of of urging consumers not to use the website in the meantime.
Viagogo users have repeatedly complained of difficulty securing refunds or recouping lost travel and accommodation costs after being denied access to events due to restrictions on resale.
According to the report, Viagogo told MPs that it has doubled its customer service staff and invested in new technology in response to customers’ anger.
The MPs also criticised Google for repeatedly accepting money for Viagogo adverts that they claimed contravened its own guidelines and breached UK law. “It is time for companies such as Google to take more responsibility and act against such advertising, or else be considered to be knowingly making money out of fraudulent selling,” the report said.
The MPs called on the government to set out the responsibility of Google to ensure companies who paid to appear at the top of search rankings were complying with consumer law.
The Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, who has long campaigned against ticket touting, said: “I hope that the government will respond positively to the report, particularly to the recommendations about reviewing the effectiveness of current regulations, and act appropriately if they are found to be ineffective.”
The music industry group FanFair Alliance called on Google to remove ads for Viagogo and said its website should be temporarily blocked while the CMA pursues legal action. “If a restaurant poses a risk to public health, we expect inspectors to close it immediately on grounds of consumer protection. Unfortunately, such powers of enforcement are seemingly absent when it comes to online ticket touting.”
In a blow to powerful ticket touts, some of whom have used Viagogo to build multimillion-pound businesses, the committee called on the government to review new laws preventing the use of bots to harvest large numbers of tickets.
But the committee’s report said the legislation should be reviewed because it did not cover other methods used by touts to grab tickets at the expense of fans. These include techniques exposed in an investigation by the Observer, such as employing people to buy as many tickets as possible and using multiple credit cards to circumvent limits on the number of seats in one transaction.
National Trading Standards and its Scottish counterpart were given £15m to enforce laws designed to prevent mass ticket resale, resulting in charges brought against six major ticket touts, who face trial later this year.