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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Pressure mounts for cooling-off period

  • The sales practises of beauty and fitness centres are once again in the news for all the wrong reasons; it’s past time to introduce legislation to regulate such industries
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 11:10pm

The government announced plans months ago for legislation requiring fitness and beauty centres to offer a cooling-off period to customers purchasing service contracts, allowing them to call off any deal unconditionally. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the government would submit a bill for approval before the end of the current Legislative Council term in 2020.

Industry leaders rejected the proposal as unfair because it penalised whole sectors, not just firms using high-pressure sales tactics, and would bring financial instability to businesses.

However, scores of complaints over three years against the operator of a chain of beauty centres seems to have provided good reason for the government to push on with the cooling-off law and try to get it passed well before 2020. The Consumer Council, which strongly supports it, has just reprimanded Pretty Beauty Centre for unscrupulous sales tactics after receiving 82 complaints involving about HK$2.4 million. Fifty of the cases related to sales practices.

Beauty centre rebuked over cases of unscrupulous sales tactics

Professor Wong Kam-fai, chairman of the council’s complaints review committee, said the company had obtained credit card details and then used them to draw payments without the explicit consent from clients. It had refused to refund them even when it found some of the victims were disabled. One who had suffered a brain injury was refused a refund of HK$37,000 for five contracts, according to Consumer Council chief Gilly Wong Fung-han.

Conceding that some staff may have been “negligent” in sales procedures and management of complaints, Pretty Beauty customer service director Carol Cheng Ka-yee apologised and said the group was willing to try to reach solutions individually with clients.

A cooling-off period for beauty and fitness centre contracts was proposed as part of amendments to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance in 2012, but it was dropped amid strong opposition. The fitness and beauty industries have, in a sense, been on probation since then. The industry can hardly mount a convincing case against a plan to target businesses that remain common sources of grievances such as beauty service providers and health clubs. Gilly Wong is right to call for early introduction of a cooling-off period.