Bluesfest to pay stallholders over $90k, tribunal rules
A New South Wales tribunal has ordered Byron Bay’s Bluesfest to pay $90,250.45 to 11 stallholders from its cancelled 2020 event, according to multiple reports.
When the Federal Government capped mass attendances at 500 people due to COVID-19 and stopped Bluesfest from going ahead just weeks before kick-off, festival management offered to roll over the fees paid by stallholders to the 2021 event.
Part of the deal signed by stallholders was that Bluesfest “has no liability or obligation to refund their deposit or stall fees” in the case of a force majeure event, which relieves a party from performing its contractual obligations when an unexpected, external event has occurred, preventing them from doing so.
A letter to stallholders in May stated, in part: “This rollover option is a great opportunity for you to recover your investment and a gesture of goodwill and good faith from Bluesfest Services, acknowledging the challenging times that we are all in.”
While Bluesfest maintained it was legally in the clear, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) ruled Bluesfest Services Pty Ltd had no legal basis to keep stallholder fees. It cited the Fair Trading Act, Australian Consumer Law and the Frustrated Contracts Act.
TMN reached out to Bluesfest this morning, but organisers declined to comment on the ruling.
Mark Swivel of Barefoot Law, which represented the stallholders, told Echonetdaily: “Bluesfest were ordered to pay all stallholders a full refund.
“NCAT said the contract was unfair, the stallholders got nothing for the fee they paid, so Bluesfest had no right to keep their money.”
Most stallholders had accepted Bluesfest’s rollover offer. The event had already spent $10 million to $15 million in advance costs before being shut down.
However, the plaintiffs argued that they too were strapped for cash, especially considering some had already suffered from income loss due to the bushfires in early 2020, and needed the refunds.
According to Paul Briggs, who runs The Cajun Kitchen, food vendors paid between $10,000 and $15,000. He said on radio that he was owed $13,500, which would be “pretty useful right now”.
The NCAT ruling will be significant to the entire Australian live sector, which effectively shut down on Friday, March 13, and is just now recovering from its zero-trade problem.
Bluesfest can lodge an appeal within 28 days.