The government has come under fire for disqualifying Hongkongers from receiving the next round of consumption vouchers based on their pension account status, a decision that can only be appealed through steps many have criticised as complicated.

Consumption voucher
People queuing up at the secretariat of the Consumption Voucher Scheme in Mong Kok on July 15, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

More than 100 people who were told they were not eligible for the voucher were in line outside the secretariat office in Mong Kok when an HKFP reporter visited on Friday morning.

They had received a text message from the government saying they would not receive the HK$5,000 voucher because they have previously applied for an early withdrawal of their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) account.

Authorities said when announcing the second phase of the consumption voucher – to be released in August – that people who have left or intended to leave Hong Kong permanently would be ineligible for the money, with early withdrawal of their pension accounts being an indicator of “permanent departure.”

Consumption voucher
A man showing a message he received from the government notifying him that he has been denied from receiving the second phrase of consumption voucher. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Steven Lai, a 45-year-old restaurant manager, said he withdrew his MPF early as he originally planned to move to the mainland with his wife in 2020, but in the end decided to stay in Hong Kong.

“To be honest, the HK$5,000 was not the most important thing, but I don’t want this to affect my other applications for government services and benefits… such as public housing and subsidies [for my children’s education],” Lai said.

Consumption voucher
A person applying for a review holding a ticket showing his queuing number at the secretariat of the Consumption Voucher Scheme in Mong Kok on July 15, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Lai added that the government should check residents’ travel records and determine whether they have really left Hong Kong instead of bothering them to make such appeal.

Bill Yuen, 32, shouted at the secretariat staff after submitting his appeal application. “Do you know how much time I have wasted doing this? Fuck you!”

Consumption voucher
Bill Yuen shouting at a staff member at the secretariat of the Consumption Voucher Scheme in Mong Kok on July 15, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Yuen said he took a half day off from work and travelled all the way from his Tung Chung home to apply for a review for his pregnant wife, who withdrew her MPF more than a decade ago because they needed the money to tide over a bad economy.

“Most Hongkongers need to work during these hours. Just because [the government] sent a text message saying we’re ineligible, we need to take time off to deal with this.”

4,000 review applications received

As of Tuesday, the consumption voucher secretariat received around 4,000 applications for review, said Jessie Wong, the head of the Budget and Tax Policy Unit under the Financial Secretary’s Office, on an evening RTHK programme on Thursday.

paul chan jessie wong consumption voucher
Financial Secretary Paul Chan (left) and Head of Budget and Tax Policy Unit Jessie Wong (right) at a presser announcing the consumption voucher scheme. Photo: GovHK.

Wong said that, according to information provided by the MPF Scheme Authority, around 240,000 people successfully withdrew their pensions early. Authorities then used this information as a basis to send out text messages to potentially ineligible residents.

She said she understood this may bring inconvenience to residents, but said it should “not be difficult” to submit proof if people were actually in Hong Kong.

Wong also dismissed suggestions that authorities can check taxation records to verify if a person is in Hong Kong or not, as the Inland Revenue Department’s Official Secrecy Provisions prohibits them from disclosing taxpayers’ information to other government departments.

The official added that those who were disqualified can provide evidence of residing in Hong Kong – such as rent receipts, credit card records and public hospital visit records – to appeal the decision. Appeals will be handled “reasonably,” Wong said, and authorities will strive to complete them within six weeks.

In all, 43,000 applicants for the HK$5,000 handout were rejected from the 2021 Consumption Voucher Scheme, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau told HKFP last month. However, 87 per cent of these were because the applicant had died.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.