No quick decision on claims for welfare

Recent arrivals who rushed to take advantage of ruling allowing them to claim social security told their applications won't be processed yet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:12am

A handful of recent immigrants yesterday rushed to try to take advantage of a court ruling that overturned a ban on them receiving government welfare.

But the Social Welfare Department says it will not process applications until guidelines clarifying Tuesday's Court of Final Appeal ruling - which declared a seven-year residency requirement unlawful - are finalised.

One mainland woman, who has lived in Hong Kong since 2009, said she had applied for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance yesterday and spent 10 minutes discussing her application with a department officer. The officer could not say when it would be processed.

"Because [the ruling] only came yesterday, we don't necessarily know how long this will take," the officer said.

The woman came to Hong Kong to reunite with her parents, both of whom are permanent residents. She lived with her local boyfriend and worked in the kitchen of their eight-year-old daughter's school, but moved out with the girl in 2011 after suffering "physical and psychological abuse" from her partner.

She applied for CSSA in January, citing family abuse, but was turned down because she and her abuser were not married. A second application in August was turned down because she had not lived in the city for seven years - the rule struck down by the top court this week.

Although she and her daughter have been granted a public-housing flat, they have had to live off the child's CSSA allowance of just HK$2,490 a month as the woman said she had health problems and could not work while taking care of the girl.

"The ruling has given me hope again," said the woman, who refused to give her name as she feared being tracked by her ex-boyfriend. "I've endured great psychological pain all along and I often have nightmares."

A 60-year-old woman who was also filing an application said she had never heard of CSSA, Hong Kong's catch-all social welfare programme, until the ruling on Tuesday. She said she had moved to Hong Kong in 2009 after marrying a local man, but had subsequently divorced and was having to work part-time despite suffering from arthritis.

A third applicant said she had moved to Hong Kong in 2011 to be with her local husband, but both were unemployed. She had failed in three welfare applications due to the seven-year rule.

Although the court success provided hope for new immigrants, visits by the South China Morning Post to some of the department's district offices did not suggest a rush of applicants. The department received 31 applications from new arrivals on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said. No figure for yesterday was available.

Additional reporting by Edward Tang and Carol Cheung