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Crime in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Customs sees 120 per cent rise in complaints against renovation firms

Tricks used by dishonest companies include vague quotations and forcing consumers to pay for extra items after beginning work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:14am

Looking to remodel your kitchen or renovate your flat? Seek recommendations and get detailed quotes, officials warned, with the customs department seeing a dramatic increase in complaints on suspected unfair trade services from the renovation services sector.

From January to October this year, Customs received 170 reports related to renovation and interior design services, up from 77 cases in the same period last year – a 120 per cent increase – the department revealed on Monday.

Some of the tricks used by dishonest companies included vague quotations for projects, making promises verbally without putting them into contracts, and forcing consumers to pay for extra items after beginning the work.

“When [those companies] have removed the flooring or demolished half of the walls, they might start mentioning extra items, such as switches or pipes,” said Ellis Lai Lau-pak, assistant commissioner at the Customs and Excise Department. “If consumers refused to pay, those companies would stop working or stay out of contact.”

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A total of 5,899 complaints on suspected violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance were received by the department in the first 10 months this year. Among them, 3,705 were related to goods, a 30 per cent increase from the same period last year. Reports on services also saw a 22 per cent increase to 2,194 this year.

The amended ordinance, which requires traders to provide accurate information about their goods as well as services, came into effect in July 2013. From then until October this year, the department has received 332 reports against renovation services on suspected unfair trade practices.

Officials believed the dramatic increase in complaints against companies in the sector was partly due to a landmark case in which a renovation company and its director were convicted of unfair trade practices and penalised in July. The victim had been told the flat renovation work would cost about HK$175,000, but the final bill came in close to HK$800,000.

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“This case gave a clear message to consumers that their rights within this industry could be protected,” Lai said. “Many victims in previous renovation cases therefore came to make complaints too.”

The case was the first time a renovation company had been prosecuted for the offence since the amended ordinance was introduced.

Sectors with increased complaints on services and goods sales included travel, beauty and food and beverages.

Lai reminded the public to choose renovation companies based on referrals from friends or relatives. Project quotations should also be as detailed as possible, he said.