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Which? campaigns to stamp out hidden and unfair ticket fees

If you did not think the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was out to change the basis of ticketing in the UK, consumer group Which? has launched a campaign to stamp out "hidden and unfair" ticket fees.  Which? has launched an on-line petition which has reached 20,000 in just 24 hours.

Which? says their research shows that "8 out of 10 eventgoers think ticket fees are a rip-off" and "almost half of audiences say that these extra charges have put them off booking tickets online".  Ironically, Which? is challenging the ticketing industry on all the points covered by the ASA rulings and the new Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) Code for advertising ticket prices: Ticket Picing (non-broadcast).

It is worth re-stating that "advertising" includes all an organisation's print and web and social media communications, so the presentation of ticket prices on websites is fundamentally covered by the Code.  The Code clearly requires the advertising of inclusive ticket prices (combined face value and booking fees) where the booking fees and related charges are unavoidable through most of the advertised channels.  

The CAP Code states categorically that face value prices can only be quoted "if no extra charges apply when buying tickets using any of the sales channels mentioned in the marketing communication".  There is no avoiding this where the ticket price is displayed on-line and booking fees and charges are imposed on-line.  It also means all print advertising - brochures, leaflets, flyers, posters -  that mention on-line or phone channels where there are imposed fees or charges must state the inclusive price.

S.T.A.R. and a number of the arts and entertainment sector bodies have already been advising their members of the need to comply with the change in advertising practice, though some venues and promoters are still reeling in shock since the separation of the face value of a ticket from the booking fee has become so enshrined in deal-making.  That all the additional fees and charges, including ones that are transaction based, have to be displayed up-front before the purchaser starts their transaction, adds to the need to change practice to accommodate "inclusive prices".  The common practice of quoting prices "from £" must now include all the mandatory charges which would be incurred with that starting ticket price.

Of course, because of earlier rulings, many promoters and agents have simply stopped advertising ticket prices, leading to purchasers finding out about the actual prices and charges during their transactions. But the new CAP Code is designed to catch these practices, since it requires the inclusive price to be shown the first time the purchaser is advised of the price.  Which? has clearly shown that some ticket agents, including some S.T.A.R. members are not conforming.

Advice on specific marketing communications is available from the CAP Copy Advice team by telephone on 020 7492 2100, by fax on 020 7404 3404, or specific written enquiries can be made via an online request form www.cap.org.uk/Bespoke.  Ticketing system suppliers have been changing their Internet ticketing engines so that their user venues are able to comply with the Code, including arcane details such as that "Hover Boxes" which show the ticket prices when you mouse over a seating plan, also make reference to the fees and charges.  ENTA was one of the first to adapt their ENTAConnect and both AudienceView and PatronBase took their new web module ticket purchase pages to the CAP Copy Advice team for approval.

Which? intends to take their campaign to the ticketing industry in the New Year and also has the option of forming a "super-complaint" to the Office of Fair Trading.  "Super-complaints" have been successful in the past in triggering investigations which for example led to the regulations on imposed credit/debit card payment method surcharges to protect consumers from charges which cost more than the actual cost of processing.  Which? is now applying the same argument to surcharges such as postage, print-at-home tickets, and so on.

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