Football fans have been dealt a double blow before the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, as their tickets were cancelled at short notice for games in London and Glasgow and they lost money on refunds calculated at a worse exchange rate.
A huge number of British fans who had tickets for any of the eight games to be held at Wembley, London and four at Hampden Park, Glasgow have had them cancelled due to limits on how many spectators can attend due to coronavirus.
But although the games were in England and Scotland fans were charged for tickets in euros and have now discovered they are getting back less in pounds than they paid.
Fans are being paid back by UEFA at a far worse currency conversion rate than in August 2019, as the euro has falllen against the pound since then, and the total could collectively tot-up to millions of pounds lost for British fans.
Currency penalty: Fans who have been automatically refunded may find themselves out of pocket thanks to the exchange rate
It stems from UEFA – the administrative body for football in Europe – being based in Switzerland and charging fans across Europe, including those in Britain, in euros.
It told This is Money that it has automatically refunded fans who have had their tickets taken away.
It told us: ‘In order to allow fans to purchase tickets from various countries through one website and one process, euros has been chosen as the currency across the whole tournament already back in 2019 when the ticket sales started.
‘Consequently, the refunds have also been processed in euros ever since the tournament had been postponed and fans worldwide were given the option to claim a refund on several occasions.
‘In every case the same amount was refunded as the one that was charged (i.e. €50 charged = €50 refund), hence there was and is no gain for Uefa from this process. On the contrary, Uefa pays commission for every transaction.’
One fan who saw England vs Scotland tickets on 18 June cancelled just weeks before the game said: ‘Missing out on going to what could be the match of the tournament so close to the game is gutting, but getting back less that I paid for my €100 worth of tickets is an extra kick in the teeth.
‘It’s not much money I’ll miss, but that’s not the point, they should have charged fans in pounds for the games in the UK.’
One fan with four tickets to the original tournament – two pairs, one for a last 16 match and one for a semi-final – paid at the rate of €1.081 to £1 with their Visa debit card issued through their bank First Direct, an HSBC offshoot.
However, after a recent secret ballot, they were refunded the semi-final tickets at the rate of €1.165 to the pound, after sterling strengthened slightly in the last two years.
Launch: Former Scotland international John Collins at Hampden Park in June 2019
It means the refund totals £145.92.
If refunded at the same rate, it would mean £157.26 being returned – a difference of nearly £12.
While this is not a huge sum, it is likely that other fans have been hit with a far bigger difference.
The fan involved was told by customer services that it would be HSBC who set the exchange rate and that it is ‘non-negotiable,’ meaning there is no chance of getting the difference refunded.
This is Money has also received two other examples of refunds which have resulted in similar monetary differences outlined above, both paid for with Visa debit cards.
With eight matches at Wembley and around 70,000 fans refunded for each game, a low estimate puts the currency swing at more than £3million.
This also excludes the thousands of refunds for those who bought tickets for the four matches at Hampden Park, which could total up to £1million more.
Many fans are unlikely to check back on old bank statements to know this is the case.
High hopes: Some England fans had hopes of seeing a group game at Wembley, and potentially the Three Lions in a semi-final
The pair of tickets in the semi-final example above were the lowest tiered available at €85 a pop – others, who may have paid far more, will have potentially seen an even bigger hit.
Category three tickets for semi-final games for example cost €195, category two €345 and category one €595. It’s not clear how many fans of each category have had their tickets refunded.
However, if you took a pair of category two tickets at a total price of €690, the price paid in pounds would have been £638.30, using the currency rate from the semi-final ticket example on August 2019.
How was the ballot run?
Uefa ran a random ballot match by match and category by category to determine which tickets remain valid.
Fans can see the details here.
Refunded at the recent rate, it would mean £592.27 being returned – or a £46.03 difference for something a credit or debit card customer cannot control.
Fans had no option but to pay for tickets in euros, with Uefa headquartered in Switzerland.
The tournament, featuring the best in European international talent, saw England, Scotland and Wales all qualify.
Originally, it was scheduled for summer 2020 in 12 different European cities for the first time. This has been slimmed down to 11 venues, with reduced capacity. It kicks off on Friday 11 June.
Wembley will be at 25 per cent capacity for the group games, with talks of more fans being allowed in for later matches – although, this is still not guaranteed.
HSBC said that the information given by the First Direct customer services agent was ‘incorrect.’
A spokesperson said: ‘The exchange rates are taken from the official Visa exchange rates at the time of transaction, HSBC doesn’t set exchange rates.
‘The rates apply to all non GBP transactions undertaken by any Visa cardholder.’
‘The Visa scheme rules require a refund to be paid back to the cardholder in the same currency as the original transaction.
‘A merchant receiving a payment in euros from a cardholder in the UK has no way of knowing how much the cardholder paid in GBP. The rate applied to the refund is the daily Visa exchange rate.
‘If you wish to return or receive a refund for any item purchased in a different currency the amount you receive back will be potentially different due to the fluctuation in rates.
‘Information on the impact of fluctuations in exchange rates is given at the time of the transaction and is available on the website
‘Foreign currency transactions are conducted on exchange rates valid at the time of transaction. There is no third party that stands in for any exchange rate variation between purchase and refund.’
If the rate had gone the other way, HSBC said fans would have been paid back a higher sum.
We also asked where the funds would have been held since August 2019. HSBC replied: ‘The merchant who sold the tickets received the funds at the time the transaction was completed. If this was Uefa, then it would be them.’
A Visa spokesperson added: ‘Visa sets currency exchange rates daily, aligned with wholesale currency markets and we make these publicly available for consumers on our website.
‘When consumers buy products and services in a different currency, our role is to authorise and settle that payment securely and conveniently for both the consumer and merchant.
‘If a purchase is refunded, this will be a separate transaction and Visa would not hold consumer funds between transactions.’
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