As population ageing has become a global trend, an age-friendly marketplace coupled with protection of consumer rights for the elderly have become ever more important. The Consumer Council published the “Risk or Opportunity - A Study on Building an Age-friendly Consumption Environment” Study Report back in 2018, revealing that senior citizens were not keen on seeking redress or lodging complaints when they encountered unpleasant consumption experiences. Consumption risks brought about by the ageing population, if not tackled in a timely manner, could exacerbate and prove difficult to resolve. In view of this, the Council adopted a multi-pronged strategy: firstly by strengthening the self-protection capacity of retirees and elderly consumers through education; secondly, by conducting tests and surveys on consumer goods and services related to the elderly, then disseminating such latest information through CHOICE Magazine, social media, television and radio programmes, etc.; and last but not least, actively resolving consumption-related disputes between consumers and traders through conciliation.
The Pilot Educator Scheme for Senior Citizens (ESSC) Recognition Ceremony cum Official Launch of the Elderly Hotline, officiated today (5 January) by the Honourable Bernard Charnwut Chan, GBM, GBS, JP, Convenor of the Non-Official Members of the Executive Council and Mr. Paul Lam Ting-kwok, SBS, SC, JP, Chairman of the Consumer Council, marks a significant milestone in the Council’s dedicated mission to promote and safeguard elderly consumer rights.
The Pilot ESSC, organised by the Council with 5 partner NGOs: Yan Oi Tong Hong Kong Toi Shan Association Neighbourhood Elderly Centre, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong (ELCHK) Shatin District Community Centre for the Golden-Aged, Christian Family Service Centre True Light Villa District Elderly Community Centre, St. James' Settlement Wanchai District Elderly Community Centre and Senior Police Call, aims to equip the elderly with the required knowledge in consumer rights and public speaking techniques through consumer educational training, so that they could transfer knowledge to other senior citizens by hosting community talks on consumer rights for other senior citizens. Through the Scheme, they can share the latest consumption-related news, strengthen their social support network, as well as refer elderly consumers with consumer issues to contact and seek help from the Council’s Complaints and Advice Division.
Since the Scheme’s launch last March, around 90 retirees or soon-to-be retirees aged between 50 and 80 underwent basic training, out of which 24 with the most outstanding performance were selected to undertake advanced training and become “Senior Educators” after assessment. These Senior Educators have hosted around 30 consumer rights community talks for their fellow elderly. Additionally, 63 participants have become ESSC Network Members.
Speaking as the Guest-of-Honour for the Recognition Ceremony, the Honourable Bernard Charnwut Chan, GBM, GBS, JP, Convenor of the Non-Official Members of the Executive Council said, “I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the committed Senior Educators who have completed all training sessions and have voluntarily hosted consumer rights community talks. Their contribution is truly commendable and should be recognised by us all.”
To foster an age-friendly consumption environment, apart from strengthening elderly consumers’ self-protection capacity and their social support network, it is also vital to provide a convenient and accessible channel for them to make enquiries and seek help when consumer issues and disputes arise. According to the Council’s statistics from 2017 to 2019, elderly people aged above 65 tended to make enquiries and lodge complaints through more traditional means, amongst which over 65% would visit the Consumer Advice Centres in person, 20% would call the hotline, and only less than 15% opted for electronic means. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Consumer Advice Centres regrettably had to close temporarily for over 7 months, causing huge inconvenience for the elderly seeking help.
In light of this, the Council has launched the Elderly Hotline — 2110 2288 — after almost a year’s preparation. This dedicated hotline aims to provide user-friendly and direct customer service for elderly consumers, allowing them to access the Council’s services in the comfort of their home. Senior citizens can call the Elderly Hotline when they encounter consumption disputes or wish to make enquiries relating to consumer issues. The Council will endeavour to help resolve disputes between the consumer and trader through conciliation. The operating hours of the hotline is Monday to Friday, from 9:00am to 5:30pm (excluding public holidays). To enhance accessibility for the elderly based on their needs, this brand new hotline is purposely designed to reduce the number of steps or buttons to press before the caller is patched through to the Council’s staff, reducing it down to only the language selection and input of age range. If the line is busy, the Elderly Hotline provides voicemail service, after which the staff will call back as soon as possible.
To promote the Scheme across Hong Kong, the Council has invited 26 District Elderly Community Centres or organisations as partners for the Pilot Scheme. Mr. Paul Lam Ting-kwok, SBS, SC, JP, Chairman of the Consumer Council expressed during his welcome speech, “This brand new hotline is the first ever hotline established by the Consumer Council for a dedicated consumer group. We have high hopes that it could help senior citizens resolve consumer issues more efficiently, as well as empowering them to protect themselves.”
Consumer education is an immensely meaningful effort that has long been one of the core functions of the Consumer Council. Population ageing is an indisputable fact in Hong Kong. As the “silver tsunami” is set to hit with a surging number of ageing consumers in the coming 20 years, the potential of the silver hair market cannot be undermined. Over the years, besides organising a variety of consumer education programmes to level up the elderly’s self-protection awareness and ability, the Council has also published various reports on elderly-related goods and services in CHOICE Magazine to provide senior citizens with the latest and most accurate consumer information, such as a test report on walking sticks and cane umbrellas, a survey report on elderly medical check-up plans, complaint cases on phone scams, etc., serving as an alternative form of consumer education.
In the face of the rapidly changing consumption environment, the Council will continue to educate and support the elderly to be a part of a fair marketplace, while staying agile and responsive to consumers’ plights and needs. In this way, the Council could anticipate potential problems and take proactive measures before issues arise.
Looking ahead, the collective effort and commitment from all stakeholders in society are essential for fostering an age-friendly marketplace. Through helping senior consumers navigate the swiftly evolving business and consumption modes, and by strengthening their self-protection ability against various unfair trade practices, there is hope that such age-friendly standards and voluntary practices could be embedded and flourish in society. Together we can build an extensive and robust silver hair market.