URBAN councillors yesterday proposed awarding themselves a 10 per cent pay rise and the right to claim expenses. If approved by the standing committee next week, their allowances will rise from $40,000 to $44,000 a month. One councillor admitted there could be criticism of the rise at a time when legislators were demanding a freeze in public service charges. 'It is a tough job to persuade the public about our increase of allowances at this time but we will justify the increase with professional services we provide,' said the Democratic Party's Stephen Hung Chung-fun, the chairman of the working group on allowances. 'The allowance increase is proposed to correspond with that of Legco,' he said. 'We suggest introducing a system which allows us to claim back our expenses, such as office rentals and salaries for hiring assistants.' He said the system allowing councillors to claim expenses would increase the council's openness and make them more accountable. The present level of allowances was not enough for members to provide 'reasonable service'. He said members wanted to recruit staff with university educations. Mr Hung said there would be strict controls to prevent abuse of expenses. Though the working party was dominated by members from the two major political parties and no formal consultation was conducted among other councillors, Mr Hung said the proposal was representative enough. Councillors had exchanged ideas among themselves. Councillor Christopher Chung Shu-kun from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said he needed to pay an average of $4,000 to $6,000 a month from his own pocket to subsidise his work. 'I dare not give up my own job as a computer supervisor,' he said. 'I need my salary to pay for my flat and to support my family.' It was common for councillors to use their own money to subsidise their work as councillors, he said. But the Urbco secretariat said its work would increase greatly if it had to process councillors' claims. Much more time would be needed to work out a system to decide which items could be claimed, said an Urban Services Department spokesman. The 10 per cent increase, if approved, will backdated to October 1. Councillors expect to begin claiming expenses from April.