HK’s consumption-voucher scheme draws more than 300 complaints in first 2 months, Consumer Council says

19-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog received more than 300 complaints about the government’s digital voucher scheme in its first two months, running the gamut from duplicated payments to bogus minimum spending requirements.

But kinks in the programme, intended to inject a boost of spending into a local economy slammed by the coronavirus, also appeared to be smoothing out with time, according to its top executive.

About 40 per cent of complaints filed over August and September were tied to the payment platforms designated to handle the vouchers, the Consumer Council revealed at a Monday press conference, including inconsistent refund arrangements and allowing the processing of payments more than once.

But local merchants were also accused of a variety of unethical practices, including imposing minimum spending requirements not allowed by the programme and seeking out loopholes intended to pad their bottom line.

In one case, a complainant who bought a television was told to first turn his HK$700 (US$90) e-voucher, which he planned to combine with a family member’s digital cash, into “rewards points”.

But when he discovered the model he wanted was out of stock, the merchant said his refund could be made only in points the cash was now gone.

“There are inconsistent refund methods across different stored-value facilities operators which caused customers dissatisfaction,” said Lui Wing-cheong, vice-chair of the council’s research and testing committee. He added the complainant ultimately had his HK$700 refunded.

Responding to council queries, the city’s four designated payment providers AlipayHK, Tap & Go, WeChat Pay HK and Octopus said the method of refund was ultimately something agreed to between the involved stores and their customers.

Another case saw a customer spend HK$42 at a Chinese restaurant only to find out the eatery had a minimum spend of HK$100 for voucher purchases.

After the council followed up, all four payment platforms confirmed that setting minimum spends on the vouchers was a violation of the agreements and that partnerships would be ended if violations were confirmed.

In another restaurant encounter, a complainant who spent HK$691 on a meal was informed by staff that the payment had not gone through, even though the electronic payment app showed the money as having been deducted. The customer agreed to make a second payment, only to later realise they had been double billed.

Both the restaurant and the payment platform insisted the other was at fault when contacted by the council.

Octopus said the Consumer Council or residents could provide it with information if they found unfair trade practices, including surcharges and minimum spending requirements, by merchants. The company would investigate and the take any necessary follow-up action, it said.

The Post has reached out to the three other payment platforms for comment.

Gilly Wong Fung-han, chief executive of the council, said the process was smoothing out with experience, noting only 31 complaints had been filed since the second voucher disbursement, something she attributed to “all the lessons learned from the first batch”.

Wong added that seven of the 31 new cases related to the platforms’ quality of customer service and speed in handling refunds, with the remaining cases related to disputes with merchants.

“Surcharges and minimum spending amounts still [crop up] on a sporadic basis, so we will continue to follow up with the platforms to ensure these situations don’t happen again,” she said.

The watchdog reminded consumers to check their transaction records regularly and retain all receipts to facilitate negotiations when disputes arose. The payment platform and merchants should also help customers arrange refunds immediately once an issue has been verified, it added.

The government has spent HK$36 billion in handing out the HK$5,000 consumption vouchers to eligible residents.

About 5.5 million eligible people who had completed electronic registration by July 17 received the second batch of the voucher on October 1.


Category: Hong Kong

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