why fans are raging over ticket policies
The coronavirus shutdown has cut a swathe through the world’s cultural events, with UK casualties ranging from the Glastonbury festival to thousands of gigs and theatre performances.
Theatre and music fans whose plans have been dashed are reporting long waits for refunds, with some claiming that companies are trying to fob them off with credit vouchers rather than giving them their money back.
With the original dates for some events having passed, ticket firms, promoters and venues have been contacting affected customers – but they often seem to be reluctant to address the “R” word: refund.
The UK’s Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star) – to which almost all leading ticket companies belong – has made clear that if an event is cancelled customers are entitled to a refund of at least the face value of the ticket. The same is true if an event has been rescheduled and you are unable to attend the new date.
Some acts have avoided leaving fans in limbo. On Monday, Bon Jovi axed their 2020 tour, saying that cancelling, rather than postponing, “will enable ticketholders to get refunds to help pay their bills or buy groceries”.
But many concerts and other events have been rescheduled for later this year or 2021, with existing tickets valid for the new date.
Many fans will be happy to stick with their booking. Glastonbury has offered the 135,000 people who had paid a £50 deposit for this year’s event the chance to roll it over, guaranteeing the opportunity to buy a ticket for 2021’s festival. Given the annual scrum to buy tickets, the vast majority will probably do that.
But some who bought tickets for an event are now in a much more difficult position financially and want their money back as soon as possible.
One of the companies facing criticism is ATG Tickets, part of the Ambassador Theatre Group that operates dozens of venues including many West End theatres hosting shows such as The Lion King, Wicked and Pretty Woman: The Musical.
Many ticketholders have complained on social media that they have been waiting weeks for refunds. On Twitter there are scores of unhappy customers, some of whom say they have been sent credit vouchers they do not want.
One, with the username Just Jack, claimed: “I’ve now had to ask @ATGTICKETS three times for a refund on my cancelled show from nearly three weeks ago because they’re dodging the issue or offering freebies so they don’t have to give me my money back.”
The same day another, Dan Clarke wrote: “I made my refund request several weeks ago but have still had no reply.” AndMeg Potter tweeted: “I’ve been on hold for nearly an hour trying to get a refund for my performance that has been rescheduled for two years’ time! Is there any other way I can get my refund?”
On the Theatreboard forum, several ATG customers have complained, including one who said he had about £500 worth of cancelled events and was still waiting for his money. Another called for people who were having problems getting refunds from the company to contact him as he was “looking to start [a] civil action against them”.
ATG is responding to people on Twitter, telling them that if they have emailed in a refund request, this will be processed and they should disregard any vouchers.
But you would not know that from the long statement and Q&A about Covid-19 on the firm’s website. At the time of writing it does not mention refunds once – it talks about either switching to a future performance or receiving a credit voucher. And calling the company is not easy: on Monday, Guardian Money rang customer services and was put into a queue. We gave up holding after 55 minutes.
Asked about customer complaints, an ATG spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry about the delay. At the moment we are dealing with approximately 300,000 individual bookings, which means we are taking a little longer than we hoped to react to every customer. We have brought in additional teams to respond as quickly as we can.”
ATG said it was prioritising ticketholders for performances that had been due to take place up to 2 May, so customers with events beyond that date may not have received an email yet.
In the US, Ticketmaster has been at the centre of a row over allegations it changed its terms on refunds after the coronavirus shutdown began. While that relates only to the US, the Covid-19 statement on Ticketmaster’s UK website this week said little about refunds, other than that because of the high number of cancellations and rescheduled events, “we encourage you not to reach out directly with a refund request”.
Again, unhappy customers have been tweeting about their experiences, with many saying they are waiting for refunds for cancelled perfomances and that their emails to the company have been ignored.
Ticketmaster UK says that for cancelled events customers will automatically receive a refund on to the card they used to buy the tickets – they do not need to do anything. If a show is rescheduled, tickets will remain valid for the new date, though if the booker cannot attend they can ask for a refund.
Ticketmaster says all refunds have either been processed or are being processed, and that for rescheduled shows, currently 98% of fans are opting to keep hold of their tickets for the new date.
While scores of ticket companies and venues are signed up to Star and abide by its code of practice, there are smaller festivals, local theatre shows and other events where the organiser is not a member and will have its own terms and conditions. In some cases these will be facing a precarious future. Some people have donated the value of their tickets to venues to keep them going.
Ultimately, if you want your money back and the firm cannot or will not pay up, you can turn to your credit or debit card provider to seek a section 75 claim or chargeback. This right could be useful if an event has been postponed but the firm goes bust before the show is due to take place.
In terms of what is a “reasonable” period within which refunds have to be made, one ticketing expert says normally it would be about 14 days, however, these are extraordinary times.
While many events have been cancelled, others are still scheduled to take place but with no guarantee that they will, leaving some ticketholders in a quandary. Some would argue that summer festivals now look less likely to take place after the government’s chief medical officer said on Wednesday that social distancing will be needed until at least the end of the year.
At the time of writing, the Latitude festival in Suffolk was still scheduled to take place on 16-19 July, with headliners including Liam Gallagher and the Chemical Brothers. Inevitably, this is causing some concern. On 21 April, one fan, Elisa Schwarz, tweeted “… Latitude festival have mine and a lot of others’ ticket money and have not communicated with anyone if they will cancel and refund, £240 is a lot of money to some of us”.
It is a similar story with the Reading festival, whose headliners include Stormzy and Rage Against the Machine. However, this event is scheduled for 28-30 August, so it could still proceed as planned.
The websites of both festivals stated that the events would go ahead as planned, although the organisers were monitoring the official guidance from the relevant bodies. The Latitude website added that “there are no refunds, other than for cancellation or significant alteration of the festival”. The Reading website issued a similar warning.
There is no guidance on how much notice of cancellation has to be given, though one small consolation is that in most cases, particularly with bigger shows, events are not being axed at the last minute. But for the time being, most ticketholders will have to wait and see.