Man loses case in judicial review to raise rent subsidy

Court quashes welfare recipient's challenge to inflation-based rent support scheme

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 June, 2014, 4:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 June, 2014, 5:12am

A welfare recipient who complained his housing allowance did not cover his rent has lost a court challenge to the government's rent-adjustment system.

Joel Suen Mo, 40, had asked the Court of First Instance in a judicial review to quash the policy that based the maximum level of the allowance on inflation.

He claimed the government should revert to what he said was a 1996 policy under which the allowance paid to Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients renting private flats would be enough to cover the level of rent paid by 90 per cent of recipients. Suen lived in an 80 sq ft space costing HK$1,700 a month, of which his allowance covered only HK$1,440.

Ruling against Suen yesterday, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung referred to a memorandum between departments in 1998 and said the 1996 system was never adopted as a policy.

He said the director of social welfare had proposed adopting it but the secretary for the treasury had "repeatedly made it abundantly clear" that the Finance Branch would only support an inflation-linked mechanism.

If the director had wanted to pursue the 1996 policy, extra funding would have been needed to pay the allowances.

The judge found that the director had accepted the proposal was "unrealistic" without support from the Finance Branch and had given up on it.

"[Suen] has failed to satisfy me that the 1996 policy had been adopted by the government," Au wrote in the judgment.

Through a representative of Society for Community Organisation, Suen said he was disappointed with the result and would consider appealing against the judge's decision.

He sought the judicial review in 2012 after complaining to the department that the allowance was not enough to cover his actual rent.

A victory could have made a big difference for thousands of tenants in private buildings struggling to pay their rent.

The society previously claimed some 11,800 households received rent support that only partially offset the cost of what it termed deplorable housing in the private market.

Under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance plan, a single, able-bodied person aged under 60 receives a standard HK$2,935 a month.

Those living in private rental flats are reimbursed up to HK$1,440 in rent allowances.