Financial support from relatives will not be counted as part of an elderly person's income, but will be considered assets when assessing his eligibility for a new government allowance, the social welfare chief says.
Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, director of the Social Welfare Department, conceded for the first time that funds from such sources would be seen as "cash at hand" under the new scheme, due to start handing out money in April.
"The 'yet-to-be-used' money [from relatives of an elderly resident] will be translated as cash and counted as assets," Nip said yesterday, releasing details of the HK$2,200-a-month Old Age Living Allowance.
Under the scheme, assets are defined as cash and bank savings, land, non-owner-occupied property, investment stocks, commercial vehicles, business licences, and gold bars and coins.
Items considered income include wages from work, retirement pensions and benefits, and rent collected.
An applicant who is single must not exceed the income limit of HK$6,880 a month or own more than HK$193,000 in assets. For a married couple, the income and asset caps are HK$10,940 and HK$292,000, respectively.
Gold teeth and jade jewellery would not be counted, the department said. It will review the asset and income limits annually.
All elderly residents who apply this year and pass the means test will receive payouts dated back to December 2012.
The first group to get the money will be roughly 290,000 people, aged 65 to 70 years old, who now receive old-age or disability allowance. They will receive a government letter around February 25 notifying them of their eligibility, after which they are set to get the first payment on April 5 - a total of HK$6,550 because of the backdated months.
Ng Wai-tung, of the non-profit Society for Community Organisation, said the scheme, meant to alleviate poverty, was taking the right direction generally, but looser asset limits were needed.
The government estimated that 400,000 people would benefit, but Ng doubted if the number would be that high, given such tight asset limits.
The added complication of what counted as assets might deter some needy residents, he said.
"[The elderly and their relatives] may also worry about breaking the law, and relatives may end up giving their elderly less money," he said.
The government has promised leniency in the means test; a person whose assets or income changes in the first two years can still get the money.
In April, the HK$2.58 billion scheme was delayed by filibustering lawmakers who opposed the means test. But the government, in a manoeuvre of its funding request last month, pushed the plan forward.