The application process for the Hong Kong government’s HK$5,000 (US$644) consumption voucher scheme has been made easier amid surging interest in the programme, with more than 3.5 million residents having signed up as of 6pm on Tuesday.
Following the improvements, users now only need to complete two image authentication procedures instead of three, and the timeout period for registration has been extended to 45 minutes instead of 30 to take some pressure off of applicants.
The changes were in response to complaints from some frustrated users who said the authentication process was too complicated and the time limit was too short to complete the registration.
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“Most people can complete the process within five minutes, but some users said they were not familiar with the electronic system and wondered if the time could be longer,” Jessie Wong Hok-ling, head of the budget and tax policy unit at the Financial Secretary’s Office, told a radio show on Tuesday. “The most important thing is not to stress residents out, as some have compared it to taking an exam.”
She added that extending the time limit to 45 minutes would not overload the system.
As for the image authentication elements, the government’s chief information officer, Victor Lam Wai-kiu, explained those steps were included to keep hackers out, and could not be simplified any further.
“Network attacks are quite serious, as hackers can steal residents’ personal data, so we need to enhance security. Of course, there might be some difficulties for some people, but they can keep trying [if they fail the first time],” he added.
On another radio show, some listeners called in to express concerns that they had received SMS messages from a government phone number saying their registration had been successful, even though they had not signed up for the scheme.
Both officials suggested anyone who received such a message in error should seek police help, as someone else could have fraudulently used their phone number.
However, there were other possible explanations, they added, including family members registering on their behalf or someone else entering their number by mistake.
The HK$36 billion (US$4.63 billion) voucher scheme launched on Sunday morning to high demand, with authorities pushing online registration as the fastest way to apply. According to Wong, by Tuesday morning, 44 per cent of the eligible population of 7.2 million had already registered.
Permanent residents and recent migrants from mainland China aged 18 and above are eligible to receive HK$5,000 worth of e-vouchers in three instalments beginning on August 1.
They can opt to receive the vouchers on their Octopus cards, or via three approved e-wallet systems – AlipayHK, Tap & Go and WeChat Pay HK – and will have at least five months to spend them on transport, retail shopping and dining.
The scheme is aimed at boosting consumer spending in hopes of speeding up the city’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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