Agency proposed to protect consumers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am

Need for enforcement seen as cases increase

The Consumer Council will include the establishment of a law enforcement agency in its proposals for new laws to protect consumers.

The council documented a record 38,521 consumer complaints last year, a 7 per cent increase over 2006.

Council chairman Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the high number of complaints highlighted an urgent need for a comprehensive trade practices statute to regulate unfair sales including misleading, deceptive and aggressive practices.

'There isn't enough protection for consumers against deceptive sales tactics or misleading information provided by merchants,' Professor Cheung said.

The council's legislative proposals would address the need for an agency to administer the new law.

'The council is not a law enforcement agency,' Professor Cheung said. 'Thus in our report we will discuss whether to set up a new body or have the council take up this role. Some consumer rights organisations, such as those in Australia and Singapore, do share some of the law enforcement responsibilities.'

He said more than 10 experts were working on the final stages of law proposals, and details would be released at the end of February.

The council said yesterday that the number of complaints against pay TV services was up by 80 per cent, reaching 5,231 cases. In 2006, there were 2,909 complaints.

The number of complaints peaked in June with 1,067 cases. The council did not name which service provider was the subject of the most complaints, but the South China Morning Post reported that Cable TV's hotline had recorded up to 3,000 complaints in June, one month after losing its exclusive live-broadcast rights for the English Premier League to Now TV.

The council revealed that more than 1,000 complaints were made about service providers' sales tactics, but nearly 4,000 complaints concerned disputes over prices and details of contracts.

'A lot of consumers had problems with terminating their contracts, and some were provided misleading information or deceiving excuses when signing contracts,' said Connie Lau Yin-hing, the council's executive director.

Discontent over education services rose by 179 per cent. The council said there were 2,037 complaints in 2007, compared with 729 in 2006. The council explained that nearly half were caused by the sudden closure of a language tuition centre.

Telecommunications services still attracted the largest number of complaints with 10,382, though the figure was a 12 per cent decrease over 11,801 in 2006.

Tourists' complaints increased by 33 per cent to 2,812 last year. More than 800 were about purchases of cameras and photo equipment. Some 500 concerned purchases of jewellery and watches.

Professor Cheung said that the council had a high success rate - 82.5 per cent - resolving disputes between complainants and merchants in 2006.