Three more seek legal aid for challenge to 'fruit money' rule

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 August, 2010, 12:00am

Three more elderly people applied for legal aid yesterday to launch a court challenge to the residency requirement for 'fruit money'.

Their applications to the Social Welfare Department for the HK$1,000 monthly old age allowance had been rejected because the payments were available only to elderly people who spent no more than 240 days a year outside Hong Kong.

'The government must ease the residence requirement for the allowance,' unionist lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, who is helping the three, said. 'Many old people who now live in the mainland contributed a lot during their prime in Hong Kong. They deserve the fruit money, to share the fruits of the economy.'

At least three others, helped by the Society for Community Organisation, have made similar applications.

According to a study by the welfare group, more than 50,000 elderly people now live on the mainland without any government assistance. It estimated that a change in the residence limit would cost the administration an extra HK$600 million a year. About half a million elderly people receive the old age allowance.

'I have lived in Shenzhen for more than 10 years. My savings are running out and the living costs there keep surging so I need about HK$2,000 a month,' Lau Hung-man, one of the three applying for the legal aid, said. Many elderly people opt to live in the mainland as the cost of living is lower than in Hong Kong.

'Many hoped to live comfortably there with HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 retirement savings but rising costs recently have wrecked their plans and they cannot find ways to make money,' Wong said.

The Court of First Instance ruled on June 21 that the requirement for a permanent resident to have lived in the city almost continuously for a year before being eligible to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance was unconstitutional.

'The ruling only applies to the CSSA and does not affect the requirement for the old age allowance,' a Social Welfare Department spokesman said, adding that the government was appealing against the ruling.

The Legal Aid Department said it was assessing the applicants' legal grounds and income and no application had been approved so far.