LCQ9: Setting of expiry dates for cash coupons by shop operators
Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kwok-fan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (April 11):
In recent months, quite a number of members of the public have relayed to me that they purchased a considerable number of cash coupons from certain shop operators but they were unaware or forgot that expiry dates had been set for the cash coupons. When they attempted to use the cash coupons, the shop operators concerned refused to let them do so, citing the reason that the validity periods of the coupons had expired. Those members of the public opine that as their purchase by cash of cash coupons of equivalent value is tantamount to a pre-payment mode of consumption, the unilateral setting of expiry dates for the cash coupons by the shop operators is unreasonable and has prejudiced the rights and interests of consumers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the number of complaints about the use of cash coupons received from consumers by the Consumer Council in each of the past three years, the industries to which the shop operators concerned belonged, and the main contents of such complaints;
(2) of the number of reports about malpractices of shop operators received from users of cash coupons by various government departments concerned in each of the past three years, the industries to which the shop operators concerned belonged, and the main contents of such reports; the mechanism for handling such reports; whether those government departments have examined the characteristics of the reports received over the years and whether they will consider stepping up the monitoring of the sale of cash coupons by shop operators; and
(3) whether it will consider studying the imposition of restrictions on the setting of expiry dates for cash coupons by shop operators, with a view to protecting the rights and interests of consumers; if so, of the details; if not, the justifications for that?
My consolidated reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
The Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap 362) (the Ordinance) prohibits common unfair trade practices, including false trade descriptions, misleading omissions and wrongly accepting payment, etc. The Ordinance stipulates that traders shall not (including during the sale of cash coupons) provide any false or misleading product information to consumers, or accept payment if they have no reasonable ground to believe that they will be able to supply the product within a specified or reasonable period, otherwise they commit an offence.
From 2015 to 2017, the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) received a total of 157 complaints on suspected infringement of the Ordinance related to cash coupons. The yearly figures are set out at Table 1. In terms of industries, there were more complaints on the catering, food and beverage as well as general retailers sectors. The complaints mainly involved false trade descriptions or wrongly accepting payment.
Separately, from 2015 to 2017, the Consumer Council received a total of 539 complaints related to cash coupons. The yearly figures are set out at Table 2. In terms of industries, there were more complaints on the food and drinks as well as supermarket sectors. The complaints mainly involved being unable to use expired cash coupons or unable to use cash coupons due to closure of business.
Consumers purchasing cash coupons issued by traders is a mode of pre-payment consumption. Pre-payment consumption may be convenient to consumers and traders, but consumers also face certain risks. In deciding whether to purchase cash coupons, consumers should consider, apart from the advantages offered by traders, the relevant terms and conditions (such as the date of expiry designated by traders), and carefully consider their own needs. If consumers consider the terms in individual contracts unconscionable or affecting their rights, and the dispute cannot be resolved by negotiation with the trader, they may lodge complaints with the Consumer Council, pursue mediation or obtain legal advice for deciding whether to take legal action. If consumers suspect traders of infringing the Ordinance, they may file a report with C&ED. C&ED will follow up and investigate. C&ED will continue to enforce the Ordinance proactively and tackle common unfair trade practices from various angles to protect the interest of consumers.
Ends/Wednesday, April 11, 2018