Consumer Council head says study will look at legislating sector-based time periods when buyers can cancel deals and obtain a refund
The Consumer Council is considering whether legislation is needed to govern how people can seek refunds for goods and services they are not satisfied with. The watchdog is preparing a research report for publication later this year. The council’s chief executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han, told the that the report would take into account cooling-off periods in other countries to determine what was suitable for the city and would propose exemptions for certain businesses. A cooling-off period was proposed as part of the enacted in 2013, but it was dropped amid strong opposition from business. “We need to learn from the experience the last time when the proposed cooling-off period was ‘broad-brush’ , ” Wong said. “But this time, we will consider whether to introduce different cooling-off period provisions to regulate different sectors.” “Though some businesses may have other views, I believe the general public thinks a cooling-off period is needed to strengthen consumer protection. That is why we are producing this research report for the reference of the government, ” Wong said. Last year, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung told the Legislative Council that certain issues concerning a mandatory cooling-off period were “controversial”, such as whether it should apply to all goods and services. But So also noted some jurisdictions were already imposing cooling-off periods. In the mainland, consumers who buy goods through the internet, television, telephone or by mail order after March 2014 can return the goods within seven days without giving any reason. In Britain, consumers who enter into “distance” contracts with traders can cancel the contract within 14 days. In Hong Kong, cooling-off periods apply to life insurance. Some fashion stores implement them on a voluntary basis. There have been calls for cooling-off periods for services like beauty treatment courses and, after reports that consumers were forced into expensive purchases. Examples include a middle-aged woman who paid over HK$4 million for a gym chain membership and 3,381 hours of personal training after being constantly pestered by sales staff. The Consumer Council said complaints about health clubs shot up 189 per cent last year. The Customs and Excise Department received over 16,000 complaints about what is known as prepaid consumption by mid-2016, but only recorded about 200 successful prosecutions. Wong said the European Union and Australia had strong measures in place, but the US had no statutory cooling-off periods. “In the US, cooling-off periods are voluntary and used as a competitive strategy. If a shop promises a cooling-off period, then the customer may be more likely to buy without having to worry about making a mistake, ” Wong said. She noted that some trades were unsuitable for cooling-off periods because of the nature of the product, which was why the council would recommend some exceptions. “For example, you can’ t change your mind after making a tailor-made suit.” Wong said customers who used part of a prepaid service would be able to receive a refund on a pro rata basis.
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