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Brussels, 29 September 2011
Frequently Asked Questions: Now safer to shop for tickets online following EU Sweep investigation
1. THE TICKETING SWEEP
Why were online sales of tickets for cultural and sporting events picked for the fourth sweep investigation?
People are using the internet more and more to check their entertainment options - to see what's on, when it's on, and to compare prices and offers for the best deals or the deal that suits them best. In 2009, about 35% of EU consumers who purchased anything online bought tickets either for a cultural or sporting event1. This trend results in better deals and more choice for many buyers. But one of the consequences is also a large number of consumer complaints in this product category. The European Consumer Centres (ECCs) report that 30% of the complaints about online shopping which they handled concerned Recreation and Culture services, of which Cultural and Sport Events form a large part (2009 data). These were the key reasons why the European consumer enforcement network set up by a European Regulation2 decided to pick this product category for their present joint exercise.
Which product categories were concerned?
The present sweep targeted websites selling tickets for cultural and sporting events –i.e. concerts, movies, theatre plays, and for sporting events such as football matches, Formula 1 races.
When did this sweep take place and what did it involve?
The initial check was carried out between 31st May and 4th June 2010 by the national enforcement authorities (see MEMO/10/418) and co-ordinated by the European Commission. Since then, the authorities have been investigating suspected breaches and taking follow-up action to ensure that sites comply with EU consumer rules. Many sites have been corrected - some voluntarily, many following enforcement interventions.
Which countries participated in the sweep?
27 EU Member States plus Norway and Iceland participated. The full list of participating national authorities, and their press contacts, can be found at the following link:
What were the main problems found?
Then main problems found were:
What exactly was checked by the authorities in the first phase?
Below is a checklist agreed on by the network of national enforcement authorities before the sweep and used by all participating countries to check websites during the sweep.
1. Are the name, geographical address and e-mail address of the trader provided?
2. Is there clear information about the main characteristics of the product?
3. Does the price include taxes?
4. Is the consumer provided with information on payment and delivery arrangements?
6. Is the information about the trader misleading?
7. Is the information about the main characteristics of the product misleading?
8. Is the presentation of the final price to pay the same as stated in the information provided before the purchase?
9. Does the website contain any unfair Terms and Conditions?
9a. Are the Terms and Conditions drafted in a plain and intelligible language?
What happened as a follow-up to the initial findings?
Following the initial check in June 2010, national enforcement authorities began the Enforcement Phase. They contacted the traders responsible for the websites under investigation, asking for clarification and then, when it was necessary telling them to correct the irregularities, failing which they would face sanctions including fines. For cases identified as having a cross border element, authorities requested investigative and enforcement assistance from the authority in the other Member States concerned. For cases where there was no cross border element, these were followed by the national authority.
Enforcement phase results
All 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Iceland participated in the fourth EU led Sweep investigation to check websites selling tickets for cultural and sporting events for compliance with EU consumer rules. The initial check was carried out between 31st May and 4th June 2010 by the national enforcement authorities and co-ordinated by the European Commission.
The data hereunder is based on reports from the 29 participating countries. 88% (363) of the websites checked now comply with EU consumer laws, compared with only 40% (167 sites) in June 2010. Enforcement is still ongoing for 35 cases, either nationally or in co-operation between enforcement authorities in different EU/EEA countries.
What conclusions could you draw?
Sweeps are increasingly effective. Authorities all across the EU are working together to maximise their impact. These actions are targeting problematic consumer markets with more precision. Their success deters illegal business practice and creates a level playing field for fair business. Needless to say, enforcement alone will not reach and resolve all the problems. The role of the consumer is critical in terms of awareness and prevention. Citizens should be active and be alert to risks they face on the internet so that they can make the most of the single market for better choice and price.
Table 1: Summary
The remaining sites checked in 2010 have since disappeared or were third-country sites and so cannot be the subject of follow-up enforcement
Table 2: Results per country
Table 3: Results by main problem categories
Table 3 groups the results by the three main problem categories found in the first phase of the sweep in 2010.
Can you give an example of a type of problem found during this sweep?
A site is selling tickets which are not yet in circulation. The buyer is not informed on the website at the time of purchase that the delivery of the ticket is subject to availability. He discovers this only days before the event when he has already incurred the costs of travel and accommodation for the event. The aim of the enforcement authorities in this case is to ensure that full and correct information is provided to the consumer about the availability of the ticket at the time of purchase.
Why are some of the cases still ongoing?
According to some member states legislation the competent authority is obliged to seek to obtain a voluntary settlement with the companies before further enforcement measures can be taken. If this is not achieved at a certain point, the Member States decide if they apply a fine and go to court. Some of these cases are still pending before the courts.
Due to different national rules of procedural law, some cross boarder cases require investigations and enforcement proceedings in several countries, which may take longer.
What should consumers check when they go to buy tickets online?
Seven countries (Belgium, France, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom) conducted a deeper investigation of the targeted sites – this is called the Sweep Plus exercise.
In the Sweep Plus exercise, 164 sites (40% of the 414 sites checked in this sweep) were checked for two additional issues. They checked (1) if the tickets were non-transferable, (since while non-transferable tickets are allowed this must be clearly stated on the website before purchase), and (2) if the trader sold tickets for non-existent events.
Out of the 164 sites checked, 148 sites (90%) are now compliant for these two particular problems, compared with 80 sites (49%) in June 2010. Authorities continue working in 8 cases.
3. GENERAL BACKGROUND
What is a sweep?
An "EU sweep" is a joint EU investigation and enforcement action to check for compliance with consumer protection laws. It involves carrying out a targeted and coordinated check on a particular sector in order to see where consumer rights are being compromised or denied. National enforcement authorities then follow up on these findings, contacting the non-compliant companies and demanding that they come into line with the relevant requirements. Legal action can be taken against operators who violate EU consumer law.
What are the EU consumer rules that companies need to comply with?
The following EU laws provide the legal basis for the sweep:
How does a sweep work in practice?
There are two phases:
How do you contact websites that do not have contact details (which is one of the problems identified with many of these websites)?
Authorities have the necessary powers and tools to establish the identity of operators – either those owning the site or at least those operating the server on which it is based. If the identity of the (legal or private) person operating a problematic website cannot be established and therefore enforcers cannot contact it, the authorities may request the web server operator to shut it down.
Why does a sweep require EU co-operation?
Online selling concerns a certain percentage of operators located in countries different from the consumers' country. Tackling rogue online traders across borders would be difficult without an EU-wide network. For example, a website selling to France may well be based in Belgium, and to challenge an illegal practice in this case France needs to ask Belgian authorities for co-operation. Handling such cases as part of a co-ordinated, simultaneous EU-wide check reduces the risk of a duplication of effort and is therefore good use of resources.
A co-ordinated EU-wide action also has clear added value at national level since the sweep is not just about cross-border cases but also about acquiring and sharing the experience of enforcing the legislation at national level. Experience gained by enforcement authorities at national level will also benefit them when handling cross-border cases. This is important as the CPC Network builds its capacity in its first years of operation.
Link national press contacts :
Link to national websites
"Internet Usage in 2009", Eurostat, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/product_details/publication?p_product_code=KS-QA-09-046
Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws.