A new BBC Three documentary is putting the spotlight on the collapse of Pollen, a ticketing and events company that fell into administration in August 2021, owing more than £78.6 million. Among other things, the documentary looks into allegations that the company instigated unauthorized transactions worth $3.2 million in the months before its collapse and that it misled suppliers about payments.
The Rise of Pollen
Originating from ‘peer-to-peer marketing’ companies, Pollen specialized in creating and selling premium travel packages and experiences for shows, festivals and other curated events in collaboration with various partners.
Despite having raised $150 million in new investment earlier in the year, the Pollen parent company fell into administration last August. The administrator’s report revealed that the business owed £4.5 million to recruiters and management consultants, £150,000 to a private jet charter firm, and more than £78.6 million in total.
Allegations Against Pollen
According to the BBC, the new documentary has uncovered a report by former Pollen staff which sheds light on the unauthorised transactions worth $3.2 million that Pollen took from customers before it entered administration. The transactions were made by charging extra amounts to customers who had set up monthly payment plans for tickets to Pollen-managed events and experiences. The report suggests that a Pollen employee wrote a piece of code that was responsible for taking double or triple payments from customers, which was tested on 20 May 2022 and then triggered on 21 May 2022 without the customers’ authorisation.
Pollen representatives have claimed that the code was implemented to fix a bug on the company’s platform and that the overcharge was made by mistake “due to an error made by a single employee who took responsibility at the time”. However, the documentary has revealed an internal message sent by a senior Pollen team member to only three colleagues in the company two days after the incident in May, which suggests that the employee changed the code in order to alter customers’ payment plans and take payment for a single event. The employee says that by mistake, they altered the payment plans for multiple events at once, taking payments worth $3.2 million.
Pollen claims that no person or company benefited from the mistake and that all affected customers, except those who chose to accept a $100 voucher, were refunded within fourteen days. However, the documentary claims that of the 18,000 customers contacted by the BBC, only ten said they had been partially or fully refunded.
Elsewhere in the documentary, it is claimed that as Pollen dealt with mounting financial challenges, it sent some suppliers ‘proof of payment’ screenshots from its online banking portal to reassure them that outstanding payments were on their way, when those payments had not actually gone through.
One former employee was quoted in the documentary as saying: “In order to get a vendor to do what was needed to be done, Pollen was communicating that a wire had been sent and a screenshot would be sent to the vendor”.
The allegations against Pollen raise concerns about the transparency and accountability of the events and ticketing industry. The documentary highlights the need for greater scrutiny and regulation of companies operating in this space to protect customers and suppliers alike.