Hong Kong’s commerce chief has said the government may consider expanding legislation that introduces a cooling-off period in industries dogged by aggressive sales tactics – and crack down on those who try to bypass new rules.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah was responding to criticism that the government proposal only covers salons and gyms and only sales greater than HK$3,000 in the two trades.
The city’s consumer rights watchdog, the Consumer Council, had originally proposed a threshold of HK$500. Singapore legislation covers sales from S$50 (HK$300), 10 times lower than that of Hong Kong.
The latest proposal also put the cooling-off period at either three working days or seven calendar days.
Yau said on Wednesday the proposed legislation also covered individual sales at beauty centres or gym within the same day, so unhappy customers could seek a full refund even if the contract did not meet the minimum threshold of HK$3,000.
“It would be opportunistic to break down contracts,” Yau said. “We don’t want businesses to think of ways to get around with the rule.”
Yau also said regulating beauty salons and gyms was only a starting point, with 77 per cent of high-pressure selling in these industries, but that the government could expand the ruling to other trades.
“With the legal framework, it would be easier to talk about other sectors,” Yau said.
Lawmakers supported the proposal in principle, but some questioned whether the plan was watered down.
The government proposed in 2011 to allow customers to revoke contracts within seven working days. Separately, the Consumer Council pushed to regulate long-term prepayment contract membership schemes, known as timeshare contracts, as the Small Claims Tribunal had already urged the government to regulate such sales in a 2002 judgment.
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said that by only covering contracts beyond HK$3,000 and skipping timeshare contracts the consultation had backtracked from previous proposals.
Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak agreed the threshold was too high as it was based on figures that overlooked consumers who had not bothered to complain about smaller amounts.
Both urged the government to adopt a longer cooling-off period.
Nelson Ip Sai-hung, founding chairman of the Federation of Beauty Industry, said the government had wrongfully singled out one industry when most played by the rule book.
“We’ve talked with the Customs and Excise Department and they said high-pressure selling was concentrated at certain chains only,” Ip said. “Maybe 1 per cent were bad guys, why should the rest have to pay the price?”
Yau rejected Ip’s claim, saying complaints of high-pressure sales tactics involved “tens of dozens” of beauty salons.
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