The government is to offer new help to house people fleeing their home countries and seeking temporary refuge in the city.
For the first time, it plans to offer refugees, asylum seekers and torture claimants - who are not allowed to take paid work - a rent deposit of up to HK$3,000 and up to HK$750 to pay for property agent fees.
The existing rent allowance will also be raised from HK$1,200 to HK$1,500. Each claimant will be entitled to HK$1,200 worth of food a month, up by HK$140. And the allowance for basic utilities will rise by HK$30 to HK$300 per head.
The new package should be effective from next month after the proposal was submitted to the Legislative Council's welfare service panel yesterday by the Security Bureau and the Social Welfare Department.
Social workers welcomed the new rent subsidy but said the plan was "underwhelming" and failed to address calls for flexible accommodation allowances and regular reviews on payments.
Social welfare-sector lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che said the increase in the food handout seemed too low.
He added: "A review on all these items should be held regularly, like the annual review for comprehensive social security assistance."
The government said in the paper that it "would consider building in a regular review mechanism" when new contracts outsourcing services for refugees were drawn up.
Aleta Miller, executive director of the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, was also dissatisfied. "The reforms are underwhelming; they do not go far enough to ensure that refugees can live here in safety and with dignity and enjoy their basic rights.
"Finding decent, liveable rental accommodation in Hong Kong ... at the increased rate of HK$1,500 is still very difficult."
Julee Allen, manager of Christian Action's Chungking Mansions service centre for refugees and asylum seekers, said the government should provide claimants with food vouchers that could be used in supermarkets, and should do away with the food banks which supply claimants with groceries.
Amid social workers' calls for these claimants to be allowed to earn money, the Court of Final Appeal is today due to hear a case tackling this issue which has been brought by three refugees and a successful torture claimant.