ABOUT 180 families living in public flats where the average living space for each person is about the size of a bed can expect help as early as next month. The Housing Authority yesterday announced a scheme to speed up the rehousing of 50,000 overcrowded families, following an ombudsman's investigation. The present policy defines a family as being overcrowded if the average living space for each person is less than 60 square feet. An authority survey found there were about 50,000 such families, of which 180 are in flats with an average living space of 25 square feet each. Under the new scheme, to be carried out next month, a list of overcrowded families, drawn up according to the degree of overcrowding, will be supplied to respective estate offices each month. Tenants will be asked whether they wish to move. Preference of allocation will be given to long-term tenants and those at the top of the list. Size of the household and flat will also be considered. To complement the new scheme, the authority would speed up refurbishing vacant flats, said Deputy Director of Housing Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun. It received about 600 complaints in the first quarter of the year, mostly about the long waiting period. In March, the ombudsman, or Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, Andrew So Kwok-wing, initiated a probe into possible mismanagement by the authority for keeping households in cramped flats while 5,600 flats were vacant. Ms Law said that the authority planned to resettle about 7,000 overcrowded families in the next two years. She warned people who refused the offer because they disliked the unit's layout they would not be considered again for a year. Ms Law said the problem of overcrowded families was not serious, saying the 50,000 families only accounted for 8.4 per cent of the public estate population. 'And there has been a great improvement when you compare the figures in 1988 when there were 133,000 overcrowded families,' she said. Critics were pleased with the new arrangement. Society of Community Organisations director Ho Hei-wah said reforms were long overdue.