More than 100 Hongkongers, mostly elderly residents who have yet to receive their digital consumption vouchers, queued outside a government office in Mong Kok on Thursday, despite the deadline for registration having been extended until September 15.
Confusion among some older people has prompted calls from lawmakers and district councillors to boost manpower to help participants navigate the application process. The issue has also sparked criticism over a government decision to issue updates about the programme by SMS.
Dozens of residents could also be seen queuing outside the same Mong Kok office a day earlier as the first HK$2,000 (US$257) vouchers were distributed to those who had registered on or after July 18.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the city’s largest political party, said more than 1,000 people had sought its help after realising they had not properly filled out their forms.
The government on late Wednesday evening announced that the deadline for resubmissions would be extended by two weeks.
Registration can be done in person or by a trusted party at the Consumption Voucher Scheme Secretariat in Mong Kok’s Pioneer Centre, with disbursement of the first voucher for those filing now set for October 1.
According to the government, a number of earlier registrations could not be processed because they were either inaccurate or lacked complete information. Unsuccessful applicants received a text message asking them to resubmit their details between August 16 and 31.
Some elderly do not know how to check SMS messages, while some filled in their home [landline] number, meaning they couldn’t even receive an SMS message
Elizabeth Quat, DAB legislator
But the postponed deadline did little to ease the line outside the centre on Thursday, with some in the queue saying they had been there since 6am.
Mandy Tam Heung-man, district councillor for Wong Tai Sin, questioned why residents needed to resubmit their registration in person.
“Some elderly have told us that they didn’t line up because there were too many people in the queue. Why must they visit the office to hand in the form? Is it possible to reopen online applications again?” she asked RTHK radio on Thursday.
“Some elderly do not know how to check SMS messages, while some filled in their home [landline] number, meaning they couldn’t even receive an SMS message,” DAB legislator Elizabeth Quat told the same programme.
“We hope the government will increase manpower to remind the elderly by telephone if they have provided incorrect information on their paper form.”
Leo Chu Tsz Lok, vice-chairman of Yau Tsim Mong district council, said it made little sense to use text messages to issue reminders to residents who had opted for paper forms, as they were often less familiar with using electronic devices.
He added that the Democratic Party had also received requests for help from members of ethnic minority groups who were unable to read the text messages, as they did not know Chinese or English.
In response to Quat and Chu’s comments, Jessie Wong Hok-ling, head of the budget and tax policy unit at the Financial Secretary’s Office, said there were no plans to reopen online registration and that paper filing would now be necessary.
Wong also revealed that out of 6.9 million applications, 6.3 million had received their first vouchers, though she could not say how many of the 600,000 remaining had not properly registered.
“The secretariat has already increased manpower to speed up the progress,” she added.
“Secretariat staff will also help the elderly double check whether the form is completed if they have spare time. The applicants may also inquire about their registration status through our hotline if needed.”