Consumer Council raps telecom providers over extra charges

Consumer Council says some companies fail to align billing cut-off dates with contract end dates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 3:14am

Phone and pay-television customers who cease using a company's services may face extra charges on their final payment if the bill cut-off date does not coincide with the contract end date, the Consumer Council says.

The watchdog has investigated complaints about unfair practices by service providers which incorrectly calculate the final bills.

The council found that some companies, for the sake of convenience, set a billing date different to the contract end date but this was not always explained to the customers.

For example, if the billing cycle runs from the 10th of one month to the 10th of the next month, a customer whose contract ends on December 31 will be charged an extra 10 days up to January 10.

"The operators may have their own arrangements, but our viewpoint is that a contract should terminate on its [bill] cut-off date," council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

"If not, the extended services should be charged on a pro rata basis."

The vice-chairman of the Communications Association of Hong Kong, Kenneth Lau Kwai-hin, said each provider had more than a million customers, and tended to issue bills on specific dates owing to the huge number of customers.

But he said it was not technically impossible to print out bills every day. The association will meet in early January to discuss the issue.

The Office of the Communications Authority said it received 34 complaints about unfair practices last year, up from 16 in 2010.

In the first 11 months of this year it received 2,731 complaints related to price disputes - including providers failing to synchronise the cut-off date for payment with the contract end date.

The Consumer Council said it had surveyed 10 telephone and pay-TV service providers on how they fixed billing cut-off dates and calculated final payments. The service plans included those for mobile voice and data, residential fixed line, residential broadband and pay television.

Of the 10 companies surveyed, six would pre-set a cut-off date for the billing cycle, while the others would either fix the day of the month a customer's contract began or a day earlier as the cut-off date.

One residential broadband provider and six mobile voice and data service providers - including 3HK and SmarTone - would extend the service to the next cut-off date.

The council advised service providers to align the cut-off date with the contract end date, so that customers only needed to pay bills within the contract period.

If there was any discrepancy between the billing cycle and contract period, the last payment should be pro rata.