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Can you get a refund on an event cancelled due to COVID-19?

Chances are good that you'll get your money back, but less so if you bought from a ticket reseller. 

empty seating at a sporting event
Last updated: 17 March 2020

Need to know

  • The Australian Consumer Law says you're entitled to a refund if an event is cancelled, but not if a government ban on attendance is in place 
  • Many event managers have already committed to providing refunds for cancelled events
  • We think businesses – especially those with substantial resources – should still provide refunds for events cancelled due to government action

With events being cancelled left and right around the country as the coronavirus outbreak sweeps the land, ticket holders may be getting a bit nervous about what's going to happen to the money they paid to attend. 

Following a recommendation from Australia's chief medical officer, the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders said that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled from Monday 16 March. 

Under Australian Consumer Law, ticket holders are entitled to a refund if an event is cancelled – unless the government ordered the cancellation due to an outbreak of disease or other crisis. 

If an event organiser has decided to cancel, whatever the circumstance is, you still haven't got what you paid for – so you're still entitled to a refund

NSW fair trading commissioner Rose Webb

But we think businesses that can afford it should give you a refund even if the event was shut down by the government. 

Fortunately, some consumer-friendly businesses seem to be thinking along the same lines. 

So far, Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott has said that refunds will be forthcoming for the cancelled Formula One event in Melbourne. Ticketek has made the same commitment for cancelled events. 

Along with the Formula One, other big ticket events that have been cancelled in Australia include music act the Pixies, comedian Russell Brand and arts festival Dark Mofo.

Extraordinary circumstances – for everyone 

Speaking in general terms as the crisis continued to unfold, NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rose Webb told the ABC, "if an event organiser has decided to cancel, whatever the circumstance is, you still haven't got what you paid for – so you're still entitled to a refund". 

"The refund policy is the same whether we have coronavirus or not: people will get a refund in the event a show is cancelled," a spokesperson for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival told the public broadcaster. 

The current circumstances are unprecedented and Fair Trading is working with consumer protection agencies to provide ongoing advice to consumers

NSW Fair Trading spokesperson

And Consumer Affairs Victoria media adviser Anna Basil-Jones tells us "if an event is unable to go ahead due to COVID-19, consumers are entitled to a refund for any services not provided".

But a NSW Fair Trading spokesperson offered a more nuanced view following Webb's comments, one that's consistent with national guidelines devised by the ACCC. 

"The current circumstances are unprecedented and Fair Trading is working with state and federal consumer protection agencies to provide ongoing advice to consumers," the spokesperson tells CHOICE. 

"NSW Fair Trading's advice to consumers is to speak to their ticket provider or event organiser in the first instance and to check the terms and conditions. Some providers may have clauses in their contracts to cover them for extraordinary circumstances." 

Doing the right thing by customers   

If an event has not been cancelled, but you decide not to go, then you're not entitled to a refund under Australian Consumer Law.

But some event managers are aiming to do the right thing and support consumers in these trying times. 

CHOICE contacted Dark Mofo media spokesperson Rebecca Fitzgibbon today and received this reply. 

"The only Dark Mofo tickets sold to date are for the Bon Iver concerts on June 12 and 13, which are single events under the marquee of Dark Mofo. In this situation, the concerts to which people have purchased tickets have not changed, been materially altered or cancelled, and so we are not required to provide an automatic refund. 

"Although we are not obliged to provide an automatic refund, we are hosting a resale service via the Dark Mofo website for Bon Iver ticket holders who no longer wish to attend, and tickets successfully sold will be refunded. This is our way of assisting ticket holders, giving fans access to legitimate tickets, and mitigating scalping."

crowd at a music festival

If an event has not been cancelled and you decide to not go, you're not entitled to a refund through Australian Consumer Law.

That means if you plan not to attend for fear of the virus, or because you're sick yourself, you'd only get a refund if your ticket is resold.

But that may be further than other event producers are willing to go. 

"If it's your decision not to attend – even if it's a very unfortunate decision that you made because of being sick – that's not anything the ticket seller has done or has caused to happen," Webb said in the ABC interview. "So in that case you wouldn't have the same right to a refund."

Live Performance Australia, the peak body for Australia's live performance industry, has told its members (such as Ticketek) that they should provide refunds for people who are required to self-isolate, but there's no guarantee that all members will comply.

Out of the event manager's hands? 

Ticketek has a clause in its terms and conditions (known as a force majeure clause) saying that ticket holders are not guaranteed a refund if people are unable to attend due to the outbreak of disease, but Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody has advised ticket holders to demand a refund in any event, since big ticketing companies like Ticketek are members of Live Performance Australia, which has advised its members to provide refunds. 

And Ticketek has said it will provide refunds. 

If the event being cancelled is run by a small, community-based group or arts organisation that you wish to continue to show your support for, you could choose not to seek a refund. 

What about ticket resellers? 

Ticket Brokers Association of Australia's Joshua Gladwell has gone on record to say resellers are bound by the same laws as primary sellers like Ticketek and Ticketmaster, though some, Viagogo in particular, do not have a good track record of providing refunds. 

Basil-Jones told us that Consumer Affairs Victoria "recommends that consumers buy their tickets from 'authorised sellers' and, if purchasing online, to do so with a secure connection". 

"Tickets sold by unauthorised sellers are not always legitimate, meaning it may be difficult to get a refund in the event of a cancellation."

(CHOICE contacted the National Rugby League and a number other event organisers for comment and was still waiting for a reply at the time of publication.)

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.