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Sajid Javid Is Standing Up for the Wrong People: It's Time to Put Fans First

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As I set out in my last HuffPo blog on ticket touting over two years ago, ordinary consumers are getting a raw deal from a market which is completely lacking in the level of transparency and accountability that we rightly expect elsewhere.

Since I wrote that blog, shortly after an expose by Channel 4's Dispatches programme, the Metropolitan Police had also added weight to the calls to clean up a market which they estimated to be worth £1bn a year.

Their report, produced by the Operation Podium unit set up to monitor crime related to the 2012 Olympics, concluded that "the lack of legislation outlawing the unauthorised resale of tickets and the absence of regulation of the primary and secondary ticket market encourages unscrupulous practices, a lack of transparency and fraud", and called on the Government to take the necessary steps to protect consumers.

And since that report, there have been an alarming number of stories of exactly what the police were warning about: large numbers of fans having bought tickets through these websites, protected by what they were told was a guarantee of a genuine ticket, but finding that they were actually fakes. Just last month, hundreds of Drake fans were turned away from the o2, and last year all four of the major resale sites were stung by a fraudster selling thousands of fake tickets through them.

That's why I and colleagues from across the House of Commons, including my co-chair Mike Weatherley MP, set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse just before Christmas, and why we've been seeking expert views from stakeholders in the ticketing industry - from consumers, to event holders, to the major ticket resale websites - on how best to tackle these problems and get consumers a better deal.

Our report has already attracted criticism from the resale platforms (not to mention indifference from the Government), but there's no reason why the recommendations we make will hurt their business - in fact, they could well build confidence in the secondary market.

The most important element of any market for a consumer is knowing exactly what you're buying, and who from. Unfortunately, many of the tickets listed on these websites don't provide buyers with adequate seat details, and none of them provide any details about who you're buying from - whether it's a fellow fan, a commercial-scale tout, or even the event-holder themselves. That's why we're recommending that resale sites and those that use them should be legally required to provide this most basic of information to inform consumer choice.

Accountability is also crucial - in this case, knowing that the guarantees all these sites offer of a genuine ticket is worth the paper it's written on (or the pixels they occupy).

Those Drake fans who lost out last month may well get a refund from the site they bought it from, but that won't necessarily cover their additional costs that they've lost out on, such as travelling to the venue, leaving them out of pocket. We therefore recommend that these websites should be required to cover all reasonable additional costs consumers incur in the belief that the ticket they have bought is a genuine one.

We also think that the secondary websites should play a much more active part in checking the authenticity of tickets where one individual is selling lots of them to the same event - quantities that an ordinary consumer could never have laid their hands on - and never pay out to their sellers until a ticket has been successfully used; these measures wouldn't just deter scammers, but also limit their own exposure to fraud.

Eye-watering prices aside, nobody's disputing the need for a place where fans can safely buy and sell event tickets to each other, particularly given that far too many event-holders don't offer flexibility or a refund/exchange mechanism.

There are a growing number of places they can do this at face value or just above - Twickets, Ticket Trust and Scarlet Mist being great examples - but many will still choose to sell on an open market, and that's their choice.

But an open market should be exactly that: open. Those who operate in the secondary market - whether the platforms or their brokers - who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from transparency, and potentially lots more customers to gain.

And it's the government's role in any market to ensure that consumers are protected, and are getting the best deal possible. Instead of standing up for touts, it's time the new culture secretary put fans first.

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