ALMOST all interviewees receiving social assistance from the Government were ignorant of their right to apply for extra living allowances, a survey showed yesterday. Data compiled by the Polytechnic University's Department of Applied Social Sciences showed all 46 respondents in an intensive case study did not know to which special grants, covering more than 270 items, they were entitled. The present 150,000 recipients of comprehensive social security assistance are automatically eligible for these wide-ranging grants, including help with water and electricity bills, textbook subsidies, transport and dental fees. The Government spends about $1.2 billion on special grants. About 90 per cent of the sum is spent on housing allowances, leaving about $120 million for recipients' other living needs. Social worker Lee Kim-man said many elderly people or single-parent families, which comprise more than 70 per cent of special grant recipients, did not apply for the allowances they deserved. 'They don't know what the so-called special grants are,' Mr Lee said. 'And the staff at the Social Welfare Department seldom actively explain to them what allowances they can apply for.' Each single elderly claimant is currently eligible for $1,810 in assistance, a monthly standard allowance, and single parents for $1,045. Complex application procedures dissuaded the needy from filing their requests, Mr Lee said. Sometimes claimants must pay for items upfront and wait as long as six months to recoup the money, a practice Mr Lee said stretched already-tight monthly budgets. A single parent, Ku Sui-ling, said she was once told by a government employee that invoices without recipients' names could not be used. 'Should you ask a shop-keeper to write down the name on the receipt even for a $3 exercise book?' asked the mother-of-four, who receives $7,000 in assistance. 'It's too embarrassing to ask the shops to write down the names on the receipt as you are telling them you are poor and a social assistance recipient.' Department spokesman Roberta Chan said: 'It's up to applicants to give us more information on their living conditions so that our staff can analyse for them to see which items they are eligible for.' Mr Lee suggested some basic grants should be included in assistance payments and the pay-first system be replaced.