Confusion over social security means test

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 4:10am

The Ombudsman has hit out at the Social Welfare Department for setting "contradictory criteria" that led to an elderly couple initially losing a month's payments in Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

The issue revolves around whether the CSSA asset means test should still be applicable if the person is old or infirm.

The Office of the Ombudsman examined two clauses in the criteria for the scheme after receiving a complaint, its senior investigation officer Margaret Fung Tin-lai said yesterday.

"We found that the two clauses were contradictory," she said.

The department responded by saying the criteria did not contradict each other, but that it would review "relevant rules" under the scheme.

In the complaint, a woman said her elderly parents had long been living in a public rental flat and were both CSSA recipients.

In June 2011, she bought the flat for her parents, putting their names down as its owners.

The department said the purchase funds should be treated as income for the parents, which would disqualify them from receiving welfare payments the next month.

The complainant then cited a CSSA condition that stated the asset means test would disregard the value of an owner-occupied property if the applicant was old, disabled or in ill health.

She said her father was aged 65 and her mother had been getting a disability allowance.

But the department cited another condition that said any financial contributions received by CSSA recipients for buying properties or other assets would be calculated as their "assessable income".

It later ruled the couple should be eligible for CSSA in that month because the first clause should be taken into account.

A spokesman said the department has "to ensure that public funds are spent properly and are used to assist the most needy families or persons".