Consumer Council turns spotlight on insurers, phone makers

Complaints against phone manufacturers have risen sharply and insurance companies don't give clear, sufficient information, says watchdog

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 4:51pm

Complaints against mobile phone maintenance services are soaring, the increase in the price of school textbooks is slowing, and consumers are at risk of being left unprotected during high-risk holidays if they do not read the insurance small print.

These were among disclosures from the Consumer Council yesterday.

The council said it received 548 complaints about maintenance services offered by phone manufacturers in the first six months of the year - up 74 per cent on the same period last year.

"Fundamentally, they should do better," said council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han. "It's such a common product that you use in your daily life, they should do much better in their maintenance and repair service."

In one claim, a woman bought a handset for about HK$3,000, but after a week, the phone would shut down by itself.

She took the phone to the maker's maintenance centre four times, but after a month it was still not fixed. She eventually got a refund with the council's help.

Wong warned that companies could fall foul of the Sales of Goods Ordinance, which included an obligation to fulfil warranty conditions.

Insurers are also in the spotlight for advertising misleading claims which could leave travellers without required protection against high-risk activities if not checked properly.

The council scrutinised 20 insurance companies from 46 promotional travel insurance leaflets and found an overall lack of transparent information, leaving consumers confused.

Of the leaflets claiming to include insurance for high-risk activities, the council found only three with legally binding policy references.

"Companies should present information very clearly, [in a] readable, comprehensible and factually correct manner," Wong said.

The scrutiny was prompted by insurance concerns in the wake of the hot-air balloon crash in Egypt in February which killed 19 people - including nine Hongkongers, some of whom were not covered for balloon rides. The council found that only five of the 46 policies contained details of insurance coverage for hot-air balloon trips.

Since 2010, the watchdog has received 114 complaints from disgruntled holidaymakers.

But there's some good news for hard-pressed parents: the average price increase of a school textbook last month slowed to 0.3 percentage points below the rate of inflation, which was 3.9 per cent. However, the increase in prices of books for primary schools was still 1.1 percentage points above the inflation rate as measured by the consumer price index last month.

Council chairman Professor Wong Yuk-shan described the slower rise in textbook prices as good news, but said it "could be even better".

A spokeswoman for the Single Parents Association said current prices were a heavy burden now with the situation worse than before. "Most of our single parents would like free textbooks," the spokeswoman said.