The government plans to replace its eight-year-old welfare computer system, saying improvements are urgently needed to ensure smooth working of the social security system. It will invite tenders for the new system in July and plans to introduce it in three phases between July 2011 and January 2012. The 10-year maintenance contract for the existing system expires in March 2011. 'Some of the hardware and software in use by the system have already become obsolete,' the government said in a paper prepared for discussion by the Legislative Council's welfare services panel on Monday. 'There is an urgent need to either upgrade or replace the system in order to maintain smooth administration of the social security schemes,' it said. Launched in 2000, the present system provides online support for about 2,100 Social Welfare Department staff operating social security schemes, including Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and the emergency relief fund. It also helps process applications and issue payments and handles more than 1 million payment transactions a month. The administration plans to seek financial approval from Legco next month. Installing the new system will cost about HK$386 million, while maintenance and support are expected to cost HK$61 million a year. The system will support information-sharing with other government departments, and provide more efficient verification of data. As of September, the total number of recipients under the social security schemes was about 1.1 million.