Appeal against ruling over rent refunds
The government has appealed against a court ruling entitling a dole recipient to rent and rates rebates, which could cost the city millions of dollars worth of payouts.
The Social Welfare Department yesterday asked the Court of Appeal to overturn the judgment that welfare recipient Tang Yee-yu, in her 60s, should get HK$2,397 in rebates under a government relief scheme even though she had never paid for public housing and rates.
The government pays rent and rates directly for tenants on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. During periods when the Housing Authority waives the charges, the government stops paying them.
This means that while people paying from their own pockets had more money to spend, dole recipients did not benefit to the same extent.
In the judgment that Tang won in September last year, Mr Justice David Yam Yee-kwan said that unequal benefit went against the intention of the government's welfare policy, which he said was meant to alleviate hardship.
He awarded Tang HK$2,397 - equal to a rates rebate for the full year 2002 and a rent rebate in February 2007, when payments were waived.
The government is anxious to win the appeal because of the far-reaching effects of the judgment. Since about one-fifth of the 650,000 public-rental households are on the dole, and the city waived rent for seven months between 1997 and 2010, the department might have to recompense HK$807 million for rent alone.
'[Tang] did not suffer any loss,' argued Anderson Chow Ka-ming SC, for the government. 'Obviously persons who did not bear the burden [of having to pay rents and rates] would not benefit from the remissions [reimbursements].'
Chow stressed that the rebate was a reimbursement, which meant Tang, a welfare claimant whose rent was paid by the Social Welfare Department, should not be entitled to receive it. 'The truth of the matter is that [Tang] has been enjoying the benefit of free rent and rates through subsidy from the [welfare scheme],' he said.
Judgment was reserved yesterday at the Court of Appeal.
Kwok Kam-kwan, the lawyer for Tang, argued that it was unjust for the department to withhold the rebates.
Mr Justice Peter Cheung Chak-yau said the court could not see any valid argument in Tang's case, which he called 'totally misconceived'.
Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said the dues should be paid to the social welfare director if the director had paid for the tenant.