IX. Channels for Consumer Complaints
You should first contact the traders (sellers or service suppliers) directly with details of your complaint, and give them a chance to put the matter right. It is best to put your complaint in writing and include the following information:
- date of the advertisement or the website where it appeared;
- date your order was placed;
- details of goods or service ordered;
- amount paid and the method of payment;
- any references (e.g. order number or customer reference number);
- reason(s) for your complaint;
- anything else you think is relevant; and
- how you would like your claim resolved.
You should also keep copies of any letters you send along with a diary of events, and make a note of the time, the name of person you spoke to, and a brief record of what you discussed, for any telephone calls you have with the traders.
1. Besides going directly to courts, where else can consumers seek assistance or make complaints?
Other than contacting the traders directly, you may approach the following organizations:
You can contact the Consumer Council to seek advice or to make a complaint ( telephone hotline: 29292222 ).
The Consumer Council is a body corporate subsidized by Government funding. Details of its power, roles and function can be found under the Consumer Council Ordinance ( Cap. 216 of the Laws of Hong Kong).
The functions of the Council are stipulated by law and include providing consumers with information on goods and services, acting as mediator in resolving consumer complaints, tendering advice on policies touching on consumer rights and interest, and encouraging businesses and professional associations to establish codes of practice.
Since the Council is not a law-enforcement body , it has no authority to sue traders. The relevant complaints are dealt with by way of mediation. However, the Council can censure trade mal-practices by naming/publicizing the traders concerned . For cases that involve significant consumer interest but cannot be resolved by mediation or other means, applications for assistance can be made to the Consumer Legal Action Fund .
Customs and Excise Department
For problems concerning “trade descriptions” or “safety of goods”, you can also complain to the Customs and Excise Department directly (general enquiry hotline- 28157711; complaint hotline – 81003553). The Department will entertain complaints concerning:
- short weights and measures;
- overstating the fineness of gold and platinum;
- unsafe toys and children’s products;
- unsafe consumer goods;
- discrepancies involving the rough diamonds certification scheme.
For more details concerning the above, please visit the Customs and Excise Department’s webpage .
For problems concerning trade practices in relation to telecommunications and broadcasting, you can complain to Communications Authority directly.
Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (complaints against travel agents)
The Travel Industry Council (“TIC”) is entrusted with the responsibility to regulate outbound and inbound travel agents under the Travel Agents Ordinance ( Cap. 218 of the Laws of Hong Kong). Its mission is to maintain a high standard of professionalism within the industry and to protect the interests of both the traders and travellers.
The TIC provides the following services to the public:
- handle consumer complaints;
- to help travellers apply for ex-gratia payment from the Travel Industry Compensation Fund and financial assistance from the Package Tour Accident Contingency Fund Scheme;
- to promote consumer awareness of travel protection and travel safety;
- 24-hour public service hotline: 2969 8188;
- inbound tourist service hotline: 2807 0707.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
The mission of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (“FEHD”) is to work hand in hand with the community in building Hong Kong into a world-class metropolis renowned for its food safety and public hygiene.
- address: 44/F Queensway Government Offices, 66 Queensway, Hong Kong;
- fax: 2869 0169;
- 24-hour enquiry and complaint hotline: 2868 0000;
- e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau
The Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau (“ICCB”) is a self-regulatory initiative implemented by the insurance industry to protect consumer interest. One of the main objectives of ICCB is to receive referrals for complaints relating to claims arising out of personal insurance policies and to facilitate the settlement or withdrawal of such complaints, disputes or claims whether by the making of awards (decisions/verdicts), or by such means as shall seem expedient.
For more information, please refer to “Insurance” under the CLIC website.
2. If consumers have to institute legal proceedings, what should they pay attention to?
Apart from complaining to the Consumer Council or the Customs and Excise Department, you can seek the advice of a solicitor. There is always the option of going to court. Sometimes, just telling a bad trader that you may go to court is enough to get your complaint sorted out.
Small Claims Tribunal
If you do decide to go to court, there is a special way of suing for small amounts by using the small claims procedures in the Small Claims Tribunal. No person can be represented by a lawyer in the Small Claims Tribunal (but you can consult a lawyer before attending the Tribunal’s hearing).
The most you can claim by using the small claims procedures is HK$75,000. If the claim exceeds $75,000, you are not allowed to subdivide it in order to bring to the Tribunal a number of cases that are each below the $75,000 limit. The only way you can bring a claim in excess of the $75,000 limit before the Tribunal is if you abandon any amount above $75,000.
Types of claims can be handled by the Small Claims Tribunal include:
- service charges;
- damage to property;
- consumer claims (e.g. claims relating to goods or services with poor quality).
Before commencing a formal trial at the Tribunal, the Adjudicator (Tribunal’s judge) and the Tribunal Officer will attempt to mediate the dispute between the parties. If both parties agree to settle, the Tribunal will grant a written consent order and further trials or hearings can be avoided.
For details about the procedures and fees for hearings at the Small Claims Tribunal, please visit the Judiciary’s webpage .
If the parties cannot reach an amicable settlement at the first hearing, you need to get ready for the subsequent trial. To get more information about how to prepare for the trial (from both the Claimant’s and the Defendant’s perspective), please go to “Bringing or Defending a Civil Case” under the CLIC website.
District Court or High Court
If the amount of your claim is over $75,000, you must submit your claim to the District Court or the High Court. The maximum claim that can be handled by the District Court is $3,000,000. While for the High Court, there is no upper limit on the claim amount. Since the claim amount is bigger and the procedures involved are much more complex, you are strongly advised to find a lawyer to represent you in any proceedings in these 2 courts.
Financial assistance for consumer legal actions
Consumer Legal Action Fund
The Consumer Council also runs a Consumer Legal Action Fund (“the Fund”), which will assist consumers to pursue their matters in courts.
You can apply for legal assistance under the Fund if you are a consumer or a group of consumers involved in a matter which:
(a) relates to consumer transactions, such as:
- unmerchantable (poor quality) goods, including food and drugs;
- unfair and unconscionable contract terms;
- unreasonable exemption clauses in consumer contracts;
- false or misleading advertising claims;
- false trade descriptions;
- any other case of significant consumer interest; or
(b) involves significant public interest or injustice (e.g. other consumers may be affected if the defaulting trader continue to do business).
In order to be eligible for the Fund, normally you must have already exhausted all other means of resolving the dispute in question, and be unable to qualify for any form of legal aid.
Applicants for assistance under the Fund need not undergo a mandatory means test in order to qualify for assistance. However the Trustee may take into account an applicant’s financial resources in deciding whether to accept or reject a particular case.
There is a non-refundable application fee payable at the time of application. If your case is to be tried in the Small Claims Tribunal, the application fee is HK$100. If your case is to be tried in the District Court or other higher courts, the application fee is HK$1,000.
If your case is unsuccessful, you need not make any further payment. The Fund pays for all your costs and expenses. On the other hand, if your matter is successful, you will be asked to pay a contribution to the Fund.
For more information about the Fund, please visit the Consumer Council’s webpage .
If you want to obtain an application form for the Fund, the Consumer Council has provided the form. Please click here to download the form.
If you are not submitting your claim to the Small Claims Tribunal, and wish to have it tried in the District Court or the High Court, you may apply for legal aid if you satisfy certain conditions set out by the Legal Aid Department. For details, please go to “Legal Aid” under the CLIC website.