OLD people should forgo ''luxuries'' such as instant noodles and fresh milk so they can live on their $825-a-month social security payments, a senior Social Welfare Department official said yesterday. Senior social security officer Miss Margaret Tang Pak-ying, dismissing claims that Hongkong's welfare payments to the elderly were too meagre, said: ''A cup of instant noodles costs many times more than traditional noodles. The elderly who like noodles for breakfast can have those instead. They may even prefer . . . congee. ''I would imagine those elderly people who like milk will have no objection to powdered milk. It is much cheaper, lasts a lot longer and I take it myself. I find it much more palatable than fresh milk.'' Her comments came after the publication of a comprehensive list of the needs of the elderly and their costs by welfare pressure group the Society of Community Organisations (SOCO). The group has waged a lengthy battle to get a better deal for Hongkong's rapidly ageing population. Its list includes provision for three meals a day - $5.50 for breakfast, $9.70 for lunch, $14 for dinner and $3 for fruit or a snack - based on menus supplied by the Health Department and calculated on the required number of calories old people need in their diet. Food alone accounts for $960 a month, but the list also makes allowances for two pairs of shoes each year, one pair of trousers, one sweater, three haircuts, a new cooking pot, flashlight batteries and toilet rolls. The total comes to $1,891 a month. But Miss Tang accused SOCO of fighting dirty, using some figures and eliminating others. She said total allowances any single elderly individual could collect amounted to $1,600, but was unable to say how many actually received this top figure. She said: ''The department is satisfied the basic needs of the elderly are covered, and if they have special needs we will provide them.'' A department study had shown that the elderly really needed less than $1,000 a month to live. She had no quarrel with SOCO's perceptions of the requirements of the elderly, just their choice and quality of items. She gave two examples, instant noodles for breakfast and fresh milk, both listed by SOCO as vital to the well-being of the elderly. She said the department's figures for food were lower, but was unable to say by how much. Asked if the department would provide its own list of guidelines on the needs of the elderly, Miss Tang said the Government would not presume to tell old people how to spend their money. But Mr Ho Hei-wah, executive director of SOCO, accused the department of refusing to face the real issues - making life for the elderly less difficult. ''They have never had a face-to-face discussion about this and I now challenge them to an open debate on the matter of subsistence for our old people,'' he said. ''However you describe it, the basic rate is the basic rate, and the basic rate is $825. Allowances like the special needs allowance are just that, for special needs like getting spectacles replaced.'' On a more conciliatory note, the department's chief welfare officer for the elderly, Mrs Anna Mak Lam Chun-sheung, said they would now be concentrating on how to spend money allocated in Governor Mr Chris Patten's speech for services for the elderly. Mrs Mak has already introduced services like bathing, laundry, canteen, social recreation and community education at existing multi-service centres for the aged. She hopes to be able to extend the same services to all 70 centres earmarked over the next four years.