Welfare recipients living in public housing estates could have rent subsidies directly deposited in the Housing Authority's account from mid-2006 to curb delays in rent payments, say housing officials. The arrangement is part of a series of new measures proposed by the Housing Authority amid a record high 6.23 per cent delays in rent payments by July this year, compared to 5.72 per cent last year. Other measures, proposed to take effect next month, include shortening the tolerance period for those who fail to pay their rent from four consecutive months to three before a tenancy is terminated, and requiring evicted tenants to pay outstanding rent before they can re-apply for public housing. And, in a bid to encourage tenants to pay rent on time, two lucky draws will be held next year for tenants who arrange auto-payment through the bank. The winners will get $6,000 in supermarket or department store coupons. A new e-Payment Card will also be distributed to tenants by the end of this year so that they can pay their monthly rental at 800 convenience stores and 130 post offices. According to a paper presented to Housing Authority members, there were 27,190 cases of delayed payments, amounting $52 million, in January this year. Of these, 32 per cent were welfare recipients whose rents are subsidised by the Social Welfare Department. The authority hoped the new measures would cut the delay rate to 4.5 per cent this financial year. Deputy Director of Housing Lau Kai-hung said it was not appropriate to use extra public resources to follow up on rent payment delays by welfare recipients. Mr Lau said the department had sought advice from an independent barrister, the Department of Justice and in-house lawyers who concluded that the new rule did not breach any laws. 'Their rights would not be violated if the cash assistance is replaced with something material,' he said. Wong Kwan, a Housing Authority member, however, believed the rule could be open to legal challenges. 'It is a bit confusing because they once said human rights might be affected and it was not possible for the Social Welfare Department to pay the rent directly on behalf of the dole recipients,' he said. Mr Wong said housing officials should review the existing rent assistance policy to help people who could not afford to pay rent but did not qualify for assistance. Sze Lai-shan, community organiser for the Society for Community Organisation, agreed, saying payment delays were because of inadequate social security allowance. 'Why don't they ever consider cutting the rent?' she said.