Thousands of elderly people living in private housing will be able to apply for a one-off payment of up to HK$12,000 to help them cope with rising prices and soaring rents.
The Community Care Fund will roll out the subsidy programme next week for those aged 65 and over who do not receive money under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme.
People living alone will get a maximum of HK$4,000, with HK$8,000 for two-person households and HK$12,000 for households with three residents or more.
The HK$50 million scheme has been welcomed by the elderly, but concern groups have warned that the payment will not be enough as the rising cost of living continues to bite.
The government expects about 11,900 people, living in 9,700 households, to benefit. 'The programme helps to relieve the burden caused by inflation in the past few years,' said Dr Law Chi-kwong, chairman of the fund's executive committee.
'The poorest group of people [in Hong Kong] is probably elderly people who have retired and live a life with little income and few savings.'
Applicants will have to undergo a means test, with limits based on their income and the rent they pay.
Single people will have to show that they have an income of no more than HK$8,740 per month and pay no more than HK$4,370 in rent.
Public housing tenants will not be eligible, nor will anyone who owns a property.
The fund was set up in October 2010 with a goal of attracting HK$5 billion in donations from the business community to cover gaps in the welfare system. By May this year it had received HK$5 billion in public funds and HK$1.8 billion in donations.
Mak Hon-kai, chairman of the Association of Senior Citizens, said: 'The policy is, of course, a good attempt. But it will only help the hard-up elderly people a little bit, as it's a one-off.'
He said elderly people were often particularly vulnerable to inflation, especially when it came to rent and the price of food.
The fund will work with 113 community centres for the elderly to implement the subsidy programme.
Social workers from the centres will look for isolated elderly people and help them with the application process, Law said.
For Lau Yan-chi, 72, who collects cardboard to make ends meet, the subsidy is very welcome.
'I'm very glad the government is concerned about our plight. It surely helps me relieve my burden, but I hope that it isn't just a one-off measure,' said Lau, who lives alone.
He spends HK$6,000 per month on rent for his Hung Hom flat and living expenses. The only regular support he receives from the government is the monthly HK$1,090 old age allowance.
Law said the payments could be made regular.
The scheme will be open for applications until January 31. 'Applicants will have ample time to submit their applications,' Law said.