Sheffield Wednesday: Owls season tickets refunded after uncontested court claims
Sheffield Wednesday has been forced to provide fans with season ticket refunds following several civil money claims successfully brought against the club, which were uncontested.
Thousands of long-suffering supporters could still be owed money for the last five home games of the 2019/20 campaign – which was concluded behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic – but are still in the dark about when they will get it back, 12 months after the deadline to apply for a rebate passed.
The club has also refused to provide refunds for 2020/21 season tickets, instead offering ticket credit, claiming “the severe impact of Covid-19” left them unable to pay out.
Now, The Star has learnt of three successful civil money claims brought against the Owls by fed up fans to get back what they are owed – all of which were uncontested by the club, who did not respond to our request for comment on this story.
The club also ignored a request from The Star on 17 August to confirm how many supporters are still waiting for a rebate and when they expect to settle the issue.
“If you thought you had a case you would be absolutely responding – you wouldn’t be burying your head in the sand,” said one supporter of the civil money claim, who was repaid more than £900 owed from 2019/20 and 2020/21.
“If you can’t be bothered to contest it then by default you are admitting the case [against you] is good.”
A civil money claim can be made on the Gov.uk website by anyone who feels they are owed money by a person or organisation who will not pay them back.
All three claimants wrote to Sheffield Wednesday before submitting a claim as part of a mediation process to avoid further action, but the club did not respond.
Nor did they respond with a defence once the claims were submitted, which resulted in them having to repay monies owed, plus a court fee based on the amount claimed, after county court judgements were issued.
In an update to supporters published in May, Sheffield Wednesday cited “decimated” revenue streams owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside an integration to a new ticketing system that meant all refunds are being actioned manually and individually, when pleading for patience over 2019/20 refunds.
But no fewer than 14 new players have since arrived at Hillsborough – many of which have been described as ‘Championship quality’ – and several first team stars have been handed new contracts.
Income streams will also have been boosted by the return of supporters, but there is still no word on when refunds will be fully satisfied.
Darren Moore’s team spent several days at a “world class training facility”, as the club put it, during pre-season.
“That doesn’t sound like a club with a cash flow problem,” added the fan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Had they communicated, it might not have come to this. But the total failure to communicate has really annoyed people.
“They have lost three season ticket holders, I’m not going back now until the ownership changes.”
The Sheffield Wednesday Supporters’ Trust described the offer of credit for 2020/21 season tickets as “amongst the worst in the Championship” after comparing it to that of other teams in the same division as the Owls last season.
Several fans have also questioned whether the club’s no-refund policy is lawful.
Guidance from the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) says consumers will generally be entitled to a refund if goods or services paid for cannot be provided because of lockdown laws.
Where a customer has received some of the services they paid for – such as iFollow stream codes, which are cheaper than matchday tickets – the guidance states: “The consumer would normally be entitled to at least a refund for the services that are not provided.”
It adds: “Businesses should not require consumers to take unreasonable or unnecessary steps in order to obtain refunds. A business imposing such barriers may breach consumer protection law by doing so.
“The CMA accepts that, in the initial stages of the pandemic, it may have taken businesses longer than normal to process refunds.
“However, the timeframes for providing refunds should be made clear to consumers and refunds should be given promptly and without undue delay.”
More than 55 per cent of Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holders – thought to be more than 8,000 fans – requested a pro-rata refund which "resulted in refunds in excess of seven figures to administer,” the club said.
They pledged to honour all refund requests in their most recent communication on the issue three months ago, which came seven months after the end of an initial 60-day window to issue rebates.
The CMA guidance above was quoted in at least one of the civil money claims - for a 2020/21 refund – which the club did not contest.
The fan in question, who also spoke on the grounds of anonymity, applied for a refund following a change in personal circumstances which meant they could no longer attend matches.
They approached the club to explain their situation to no avail.
“Despite baring my soul and giving across confidential information they were adamant there would be no refunds,” the lifelong Owl said.
“That felt like I was left with no other avenues to go down.
“The final straw for me was when the immediate financial crisis ended when the chairman [Dejphon Chansiri] found money to pay players. Then, having signed 14 new players, my argument would be: 'If he can do that then he can also find the money to pay back the other money owed’.
“There will be more people out there in my situation who perhaps don't want to go down the legal route. I just felt that morally and ethically it was really bankrupt. It just feels wrong,” he added.
In August the CMA ordered online shopping platform Groupon to improve the way it treats users or face legal action after an investigation found the company does not always provide customers with refunds – only credits – when they do not receive goods or services they paid for.
“This is why when people take out a civil money claim they are stalling because they haven’t got a leg to stand on,” a source told The Star.
“What the club’s doing is morally bankrupt.”
A third fan, who claimed a 2020/21 season ticket refund, added: “When you have an affinity with a club it’s a massive disappointment to see the business side of the operation being unwilling to do the right thing and treating people with such contempt.
“In line with lots of other businesses that have had an equally tough time during the pandemic they should drop the refusal to issue refunds and be upfront about what fans are really entitled to.”
As it stands, Sheffield Wednesday supporters who bought a 2021/22 season ticket will not be entitled to a refund in the event of matches being played closed behind closed doors this season, according to the club's FAQs and terms and conditions.
Instead, they will be issued with pro-rata ticket credit for the affected fixtures or “a suitable alternative such as a live streaming service or partial credit.”
The Star asked Sheffield Wednesday if they felt they had a case against the claims, if the outcomes would prompt a change in their policy and whether they were aware of a potential breach of CMA guidance, but did not receive a response.
“They will think lots of supporters will be overtaken by positivity,” the source added.