Know your rights: Can I claim refund if a festival is a disaster?

A guide for consumers when a festival ends up being a shambles

Festivals have dominated headlines this summer, but not always for the right reasons. Many, particularly smaller events, have experienced numerous troubles, leading to complaints from fans and uproar on social media. There’s been instances of massive queues, bad weather, headliner no-shows and some all-round shambolic organisation.

But what happens if the festival you’ve been saving money for all year ends up being a nightmare? What can you do if the artist you specifically forked up your cash for drops out at last minute? Can you claim money back if you’re stuck in a queue for hours on end? Here’s everything you need to know if disaster strikes.

If a festival is cancelled due to adverse weather or organisational difficulties, am I automatically entitled to a refund? 

“Tickets are usually sold subject to terms and conditions for the event, set by the organiser. These may cover issues such as cancellation, including because of adverse weather,” says Jonathan Brown, Chief Executive at the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR). “There are examples of adverse weather clauses in terms and conditions for some events that acknowledge the vagaries of British weather and offer replacement tickets for an alternative performance date rather than a refund. This is usually for longer running events and therefore less likely to apply to a one-off festival event.”

The same applies for organisational problems, Brown says. He adds: “However, if the event is cancelled in full and alternative arrangements aren’t offered then you are entitled to some level of refund, that may be provided to you directly or you may have to claim it back through your bank or card provider. This is less black and white if the event has been partially delivered, where organisers may agree a proportionate refund.”

“If the event organiser is forced into either compulsory or voluntary liquidation or administration then customers whose payments have been transferred to or paid directly to the event organiser may be treated as unsecured creditors, with reduced chances of a refund being made. In that situation, customers would need to register as a creditor with the liquidators or administrators.”

Will I get a full refund for a cancelled festival?

Consumer rights charity Which? say that gig-goers can expect “at least” the face value of their ticket to be refunded, with Brown adding: “Where an event organiser agrees that refunds should be given and the ticket agent still holds the funds, STAR members will refund you at least the face value of the ticket, or any partial refund agreed by the event organiser.”

Can I claim back booking fees and postage costs too?

Which? point out that it depends on the company you’ve bought the ticket from, noting that Ticketmaster refund postage charges but others (such as Gigantic, Seetickets and Stargreen) “do not refund any of the extra fees they charge, including booking fees”.

“Any limitations on refunds should be stated in the ticket seller’s terms and conditions,” Brown states. “Some ticket agents will not refund fees as they have still provided the booking service, are not responsible for the cancellation of the event and are not recompensed by the event organiser. The STAR Code allows for this.” See more about the STAR Code here.

When will I know whether I am entitled to a festival refund?

Unless specifically stated in the terms and conditions, it may take a little time after an event is cancelled for you to know whether you’re due a refund or not. “In any cancellation situation, the organiser will be needing to balance their liabilities against their income for the event and any insurance payments they are able to claim,” Brown says. “These situations are not straightforward for organisers and they may not know immediately how best they can satisfy all the financial claims that will be against them in respect of the cancellation. That may take time and may also depend on how much of the event, if any, was delivered. For this reason, there may sometimes be a delay before event organisers confirm any refund details.”

If the facilities (toilets, food, drink) are not up to standard, can I also claim a refund?

The standards of festival facilities are not as easily quantifiable as event cancellations and would depend on the specific situation, Brown says: “This relates directly to the quality of the event and it would be for the customer to take up with the event organiser.”

If an event is cancelled at the last minute for avoidable reasons, am I able to claim compensation for other losses and expense they may have suffered e.g. travel and accommodation? 

If your festival is cancelled, it’s unlikely that you’ll get refunded for travel and accommodation. “It is usual for terms and conditions of sale to expressly exclude this sort of liability,” Brown says. “Travel, accommodation and hospitality arrangements made by the customer are not the ticket seller’s responsibility and are arranged at the customer’s own risk.”

If a headliner pulls out of a festival at last minute, can I claim a festival refund?

Were you really looking forward to that one act headlining and bought the ticket without really caring for any of the other artists? Sorry, Brown says, but that’s probably not going to warrant your money back. “Festivals are usually seen as being a range of acts rather than an individual performer. Customers buy tickets for a named festival which includes many different performers, often buying tickets before the final line-up is even announced. Terms and conditions will usually cover this, saying that a change in line-up for a multi-artist event such as a festival will not be considered a ‘material alteration’.”

Are these rules enforceable by law, or is this just a standard of events and agencies signed up to STAR?

“STAR’s Code of Practice for its members relates to ticket agents and retailers rather than event organisers however, if an event doesn’t take place, you are entitled to a refund and the extent of that should be stated in the terms and conditions of sale,” Brown says. “If the company running the event is insolvent and the money has been passed to them, getting a refund may not be straightforward, even if you are entitled to it. However, if you paid with a credit card and spent more than £100 then Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act may apply and, if it does, you should still be able to get your money back.”

What is Section 75 exactly?

Which? explain: “Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the credit card company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the retailer or trader. This means it is just as responsible as the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied, allowing you to also put your claim to the credit card company.”

“You don’t have to reach a stalemate with the retailer or trader before you can contact your credit card provider – you can make a claim to both the retailer and credit card provider simultaneously, although you can’t recover your losses from both.”

Can I appeal over a Section 75 dispute?

Yes, Which? says, by referring the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS): “There’s no set timeframe for your card provider to resolve a chargeback or Section 75 claim, but if you’re unhappy with the outcome of the claim, or how long it’s taking, you can complain to your provider, it then has eight weeks to deal with this complaint.”

“If your credit card company doesn’t accept that you have a claim and refuses to pay up, you can ask for a letter of deadlock so that you can refer your dispute to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). If more than eight weeks have passed since you submitted your claim to your credit card provider, you can refer your claim to the FOS straight away without the need for a deadlock letter. You can also approach the FOS before the eight weeks are up if your provider has given consent for you to do so.”