Old couple loses welfare eligibility after 11 years
The Social Welfare Department is under fire for disqualifying an elderly couple from welfare payments because the value of their ancestral home on the mainland has been pushed up by the appreciating yuan.
The pair, who had been receiving comprehensive social security assistance for 11 years, suddenly became ineligible two months ago after the department discovered their house in Guangdong was worth HK$60,000, which is above the HK$54,000 asset limit for a couple.
A volunteer group that provides food for the couple, both in their 70s, says they derive no benefit from the house because it is too dilapidated to be sold or rented out.
Lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che (pictured), a member of the legislature's welfare services panel, said the department was being too bureaucratic. 'It is always very strict in handling marginal cases but is very lax in conducting investigations to crack down on fraudulent claims,' Cheung said. 'That is ridiculous.'
The couple, who do not want to be identified, had been receiving about HK$5,200 a month previously.
Now, they get only HK$2,800, made up of the old age allowance and special subsidies for the disabled; more than half of that sum goes into paying the HK$1,700 rent on their public flat in Sham Shui Po. The wife is disabled as a result of a stroke.
Sunny Mak Yiu-yeung, founder and volunteer of Sunshine Action, which is helping the couple, said the pair were suffering for their honesty.
'The elderly couple were very honest in reporting to the department that they had a house in Guangdong. Now they are penalised for their honesty,' Mak said.
The department said it had to follow the policy, which set out clearly the limits for eligibility under the scheme.
'For elderly CSSA recipients, the value of an owner-occupied residential property is totally disregarded for the asset test. However, non-owner-occupied residential properties have to be taken into account,' it said in a written reply. 'Those who cannot meet the eligibility requirements for CSSA can be referred to other welfare and support services based on their actual needs.'
The couple are among 70-odd recipients of food under a programme launched by Sunshine Action last month. They are classified as the most urgent and severe cases by other charities, which referred them to Sunshine Action for follow-up services.
Also among the cases is an elderly woman who is ineligible to receive CSSA because her son has applied for a dependent-parent tax allowance but, in reality, never supports his mother.
Cheung said the department should set up a special fund to subsidise applicants in marginal cases.
'Special subsidies can give the genuine needy some leeway, while the government would not breach the strict rules,' he said.
The CSSA caseload last month stood at 281,622, involving 460,059 recipients. The caseloads showed a decrease of 501 cases, or 0.2 per cent, from May.
The number of unemployment cases fell 0.5 per cent to 28,973, while low-earning cases fell 1.2 per cent to 13,634. Single-parent cases registered a drop of 0.1 per cent to 34,124. Ill-health cases recorded a decrease of 0.3 per cent to 25,124. Old age and permanent disability cases remained steady at 153,966 and 18,576 respectively.
The government's welfare spending in this fiscal year
- About 19 per cent of Hongkongers aged 65 or above live on CSSA