WELFARE groups could collect rent and clean for elderly single tenants on public estates under a Housing Authority reform to privatise sheltered housing. Daily management such as cleaning, minor maintenance, security, and collecting rents would be handed over while the authority would retain the final say in determining tenancy contracts. But critics accuse the authority of wanting to shirk its responsibilities by washing its hands of the sheltered housing scheme. Some wardens have also raised concerns about their promotion opportunities and job security under privatisation. The scheme costs the authority about $1.1 million a month, including hiring 50 to 60 wardens to offer 24-hour service and management. Formally known as Housing for Senior Citizens, the programme was launched in 1987 and provides sheltered housing for 2,500 single elderly people in 17 rental estates. An elderly person is promised a flat within two years if he agrees to share the kitchen and toilet with one or two other flatmates. The programme has been criticised for forcing strangers to share flats without the support of social services, and this has led to frequent disputes. Two months ago an elderly tenant of a Tai Po sheltered housing home stabbed two flatmates to death before hanging himself. It was not until 24 hours later that the warden discovered the bodies. Under the existing scheme, a warden only looks after daily management of the units and rent collection. He may help sick tenants see doctors. One warden takes care of about 150 tenants. The idea of privatising sheltered housing was raised last year in an authority report on housing for the elderly, which recommended putting 'warden and social services in sheltered housing in professional hands'. An earlier option to pay welfare groups to provide counselling has been dropped and the authority has opted for the more aggressive privatisation scheme. It believes privatisation will allow welfare groups greater decision-making powers and thus greater flexibility in management. But the chairman of the Association for the Rights of the Elderly, Kwok Lit-tung, argued: 'Privatisation may not be the best for the tenants. It may take up a lot of the social workers' time in collecting rents or looking after the daily cleaning. 'The authority is selling hard the idea because it can wash its hands once and for all, and when management problems arise, the welfare group will take the blame.' Society of Community Organisations spokesman Ng Wai-tung agreed and added: 'The long-term solution is to build more self-contained units.' But Housing Department housing manager (estate liaison scheme) So Tam Kit-ying said the proposal allowed welfare groups to run sheltered housing in its own way. 'We have thought of tendering out the social services part to them but we find it will give rise to administrative problems.'