Stop blackmailing refugees with fraudulent bills

Post Date: Jan 7th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Refugees denounce the exploitation by landlords through fraudulent electricity bills. With few exceptions, urban and slum landlords earn illegal profits from electricity bills. Unsatisfied with extortionary rents, every month owners extort several hundred dollars from each refugee. This practice forces tenants to work and risk 15 months imprisonment to pay dishonest bills.

While it is legal to have qualified electricians install meters (the emphasis is on qualified), it is illegal to claim more than what is charged on the underlying electricity bills. If landlords fail to produce copies of power companies’ debit notes and proceed to charge more than the underlying invoice, they commit an offense under the Theft Ordinance (Cap 201).

This abuse is the third worse strain on persecuted foreigners beside rent and food shortfalls. With 4000 refugees illegally charged a minimum 200$ a month, this amounts to a 10 million dollar yearly racket! It is widely known that landlords blackmail fearful tenants to cough up the money under threat of throwing them in the street, “Money, money … or zau la!” (走喇 “Leave”)

Landlords blackmail refugees with fraudulent electricity bills.

In 2013 Vision First visited hundreds of homes and only two landlords readily provided photocopies of electricity bills when presenting monthly notices. Refugees call on authorities to investigate and stop this widespread cheating and blackmailing. These practices force destitute foreigners to break the law in desperation. They have no choice but to work to pay such bills.

This shameful situation raises questions about the professionalism of ISS case workers. They are the controllers who ought to monitor utility statements prior to authorizing payment of tax dollars to deceitful landlords. Handwritten demand notices are scribbled on scraps of paper – sometimes Mark Six forms – handed out with the uncompromising warning, “Pay or leave!”

Under section 17 of the Theft Ordinance, it is written that: “Any person who by any deception, dishonestly obtains property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction upon indictment to imprisonment for 10 years.”

Vision First encourages refugees to report to the police fraudulent payment demands. They should state the name of ISS case workers who fail or refuse to protect them by accepting coercive notices. As such, they acquiesce to this abuse and exploitation. Refugees are deeply concerned that ISS does nothing to stop landlords from submitting false or misleading statements.

It is clear that this situation is unacceptable. ISS and SWD stand in a position of trust towards refugees. By allowing refugee to be blackmailed by dishonest landlords, both ISS and SWD are in breach of their fiduciary duties and must be held accountable. Vision First urges the Social Welfare Department to demand copies of electricity bills prior to disbursing government funds.

Refugees demand transparency and accountability in welfare services.

Stop utility bill cheating

ISS case worker Felicity Wong accepts electricity bills penned on Mark Six tickets