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MEMO/11/644

Brussels, 29 September 2011

Frequently Asked Questions: Now safer to shop for tickets online following EU Sweep investigation

IP/11/1094

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:

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/enforcement/sweep/online_ticket_sales/national_contact_points_en.htm

What were the main problems found?

Then main problems found were:

  • Missing, incomplete or misleading information about the price e.g. hidden taxes, handling charges, delivery charges;

  • Unfair terms and conditions e.g. ticket delivery was not guaranteed on time, or the terms to get a refund were unfair, if the event was cancelled;

  • Missing, incomplete or misleading information about the trader e.g. the trader falsely claiming to be an authorised representative or where the trader's details such name, address and e-mail were missing.

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.

  • Information about the trader

1. Are the name, geographical address and e-mail address of the trader provided?

  • Information about the offer

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?

  • Misleading practices

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?

  • Unfair Terms and Conditions

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.

2. RESULTS

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

Total number of websites checked

Total number of compliant sites in June 2010 (first sweep phase)

Total number of compliant sites in Sept 2011 (results of the enforcement phase)

Ongoing cases

National cases

Cross-border cases

Total number of ongoing cases

414

167

363

20

15

35

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

Country

Total number of websites checked

Total number of compliant sites in June 2010 (first sweep phase)

Total number of compliant sites in Sept 2011 (enforcement results)

Ongoing cases

National cases

Cross-border cases

Total number of ongoing cases

Austria

10

2

10

0

0

0

Belgium

59

32

49

1

2

3

Bulgaria

9

9

9

0

0

0

Cyprus

4

2

4

0

0

0

Czech Republic

11

8

11

0

0

0

Denmark

9

0

9

0

0

0

Estonia

2

2

2

0

0

0

Finland

10

0

9

0

1

1

France

20

1

17

1

0

1

Germany

29

1

23

0

6

6

Greece

6

4

6

0

0

0

Hungary

8

0

8

0

0

0

Iceland

6

4

6

0

0

0

Ireland

16

8

16

0

0

0

Italy

6

1

4

2

0

2

Latvia

8

2

8

0

0

0

Lithuania

5

3

5

0

0

0

Luxembourg

6

1

6

0

0

0

Malta

6

1

2

1

3

4

Netherlands

10

0

8

1

0

1

Norway

10

0

7

2

0

2

Poland

6

0

4

0

0

0

Portugal

13

11

13

0

0

0

Romania

10

3

9

0

0

0

Slovenia

4

4

4

0

0

0

Slovakia

10

4

10

0

0

0

Spain

40

12

27

9

3

12

Sweden

8

1

5

3

0

3

United Kingdom

73

51

72

0

0

0

Total

414

167

363

20

15

35

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.

Type of problem

Examples of problem

Initial check (June 2010)

Enforcement results (Sept 2011)

No.

of sites compliant for the problem

% of compliant sites

(total =414)

No.

of sites compliant for the problem

% of compliant sites

(total = 414)

Missing, incomplete or misleading information about the price

The initial price display does not include information on extra costs such as delivery charges

- The initial price display contains deceptive information (e.g. misleading claims such as "free delivery" or "all inclusive")

- The initial price does not include taxes

233

56%

391

94%

Unfair terms and conditions (

- e.g. ticket delivery was not guaranteed on time or a refund was excluded in the event of cancellation

236

57%

381

92%

Missing or incomplete contact details of the trader

e.g. the trader falsely claiming to be an authorised representative

Missing name, geographical address or e-mail address of the trader

298

72%

387

93%

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?

Cosumers should:

  • Check that the contact details of the trader can be found on the site.

  • Check that they have complete information about the price: price should be inclusive of all taxes, and information about the price should be provided in a clear, intelligible, unambiguous and timely manner.

  • Check the terms and conditions, especially to see if delivery is guaranteed on time (except in the case of extraordinary circumstances) or if the trader guarantees full reimbursement in case of cancellation of the event not due to extraordinary circumstances.

SWEEP PLUS

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:

  • E-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC. This Directive defines some of the minimum information which online traders must provide, including the identity and contact details of the trader. Furthermore, it sets some additional information requirements (e.g. it establishes that the trader must confirm receipt of the order promptly and by electronic means accessible to the consumer. (Under the competence of DG Internal Market) 3.

  • Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005/29/EC. Under the UCP Directive, traders must display in a clear and intelligible way all the key information that consumers need to make an informed choice. This includes information on the main characteristics of the product, in this case the ticket (e.g. date and time of the event, price/seat category, venue, any restriction) and on the total cost including all extra delivery or postal charges wherever they can be reasonably calculated. (Under the competence of DG Justice) 4.

  • Unfair Terms and Conditions Directive 1993/13/EC. This Directive states that the terms and conditions of the sale contract must not be unfair, that is, must not cause a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations to detriment of the consumer. It could happen, for example, if the seller states he will grant only a partial reimbursement if the event is cancelled or postponed. The Directive also includes an indicative and non-exhaustive list of terms which may be regarded as unfair. (Under the competence of DG Justice)5.

How does a sweep work in practice?

There are two phases:

  • The first phase is the co-ordinated sweep action. National authorities systematically and simultaneously check a particular market for practices which breach EU consumer law. All the authorities use a common checklist of irregularities that they are looking for. For instance, it is against EU-wide consumer rules not to provide full contact details of the trader, or not to inform online buyers clearly about their right to withdraw from the transaction.

  • The second phase is the enforcement action. During the enforcement phase, authorities further investigate traders which are suspected of irregularities, and take follow-up actions to ensure that non-compliant conduct is corrected and to impose appropriate sanctions. National authorities investigate and take enforcement actions for national cases. For cross-border cases (where the trader operates from another country), enforcement authorities can ask for assistance from authorities in the other country. This is possible thanks to the Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) Network of national enforcement authorities from 27 EU Member States as well as Norway and Iceland. During this enforcement phase the companies have a right of reply and an opportunity to correct practices which are illegal. Those who fail to do so may face legal action leading to fines or to their websites being closed.

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 :

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/enforcement/sweep/online_ticket_sales/national_contact_points_en.htm

Link to national websites

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/enforcement/sweep/online_ticket_sales/national_websites_en.htm

1 :

"Internet Usage in 2009", Eurostat, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/product_details/publication?p_product_code=KS-QA-09-046

2 :

Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws.

3 :

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/e-commerce/index_en.htm

4 :

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/rights/index_en.htm

5 :

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/rights/gen_rights_en.htm#uct


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