Hong Kong’s beauty parlours and electronic gadget retailers could be prime targets at proposed dispute resolution centre, Consumer Council says

Arbitration centre would offer legal advice or settle claims for individuals without the need for long and expensive court procedures, proponents say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 8:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 10:01pm

Beauty parlours, electronic gadget retailers and renovators could be among the primary users of a dispute resolution centre proposed by the government, according to the city’s consumer watchdog.

Customers who feel they have experienced unsatisfactory beauty treatments, unjustified delays to a renovation process or who have found flaws in a purchased product would be able to seek compensation through the centre without paying out a cent.

The Consumer Council on Wednesday announced detailed plans for an arbitration centre which will offer legal advice or settle claims without the need for long and expensive court procedures. Modelled on similar systems in Macau and Portugal, the proposed Consumer Dispute Resolution Centre should be funded and operated by the government to maintain its neutrality, the council said.

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog sets out plans for independent centre to handle shopper complaints

Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, chairman of the Hong Kong Society of Accredited Mediators, welcomed the idea but said the city had a long way to go in becoming a mature hub for civil mediation and arbitration services. He said a lack of public education on the issue or a unified certification system for professionals in the sector were holding Hong Kong back.

“Whether it could benefit small customers depends on the details,” Chiu said.

He said regular customers buying products in small amounts were at a disadvantage in disputes as they tended to have limited knowledge of the mediation or arbitration processes. The centre would target such customers, with the amount of compensation able to be claimed capped at HK$200,000.

So Man-kit, chairman of the Hong Kong Mediation and Arbitration Centre, which has more than 3,000 members, shared Chiu’s concerns.

“Most people still don’t even know how to use mediation services or what the difference is between mediation and arbitration,” So said.

This knowledge and confidence deficit prevented many troubled customers using such services, he said.

About 40 per cent of the cases So has received could not be processed because the parties involved failed to reach a state of mutual consent on mediation arrangements, he said.

“[The centre proposal] is definitely good for the general public – to learn more about the relevant practices,” So said.

Customers who underwent facials at beauty treatment centres in Hong Kong filed 641 complaints to the council in the first half of this year, and these people could be major users of the centre, according to Samuel Chan Ka-yan, chairman of the council’s Legal Protection Committee.

Arbitrators with professional knowledge of medical practices would be on hand to help dissatisfied customers, and beauty centres could save their reputations in such cases as details would not be publicly disclosed.

Sasa, the city’s biggest cosmetics chain, said it would closely watch the development of the proposed centre. The Hong Kong Retail Management Association refused to comment, and the Federation of Beauty Industry did not reply to inquiries from the Post.