AN application for funds by a prominent welfare group has been turned down by the Community Chest because the group is considered too political. The Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) has been trying for three years to get $640,000 from the Community Chest to help the elderly and so-called caged people living in run-down apartment spaces. But repeated applications and appeals have been rejected, because the Community Chest regards the organisation as a ''political pressure group''. The Community Chest, whose president is Governor Chris Patten's wife Lavender, is an independent, non-government-funded organisation founded in 1968 to help raise money for welfare agencies. It helps 130 welfare agencies serve the elderly, the young, families in crisis, the handicapped, former drug addicts, and former offenders. In 1993-94 the Community Chest distributed $150 million to its agencies. A Community Chest spokesman said SOCO had a public image as a political pressure group more than a welfare agency. ''Its nature does not go with the Community Chest's traditional funding targets. We usually support agencies offering direct social services,'' said a member of Community Chest's admissions, budgets and allocation committee, Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun. But SOCO chairman Ho Hei-wah said the organisation had been active in helping the elderly poor and caged people, in addition to its work on human rights and illegal immigrants. Mr Ho said: ''I just do not understand why we are named as a political pressure group. I myself have not joined any political groups and SOCO has no affiliation with any political parties. ''Even if it is a political pressure group, what's wrong with that? Can't a political pressure group also be a welfare group and help the community?'' The Community Chest has suggested SOCO split its social services from its political activities and set up an independent group to apply for funding. But Mr Ho said such a split would be meaningless and increase administrative costs. He said he would seek help from overseas. The rejection has public prompted concern about the Government's supervision of major charity groups, such as the Community Chest, in fund allocation. Legislator Lau Chin-shek called on the Community Chest to disclose its guidelines on funding approvals. Mr Lau, also director of the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, said his committee had been turned down by the Community Chest for funding for a project on labour education, also on political grounds. ''Now even education can be political, can you believe it?'' he asked. His colleague, Cheung Man-kwong, said: ''The Community Chest almost monopolises all public donations from society. It should play a fair role in distributing money without adding its own value judgment on individual welfare agencies.'' The president of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union, Philip Choi Shing-kiu, said the Community Chest should update its definition of social work. ''Today, social work is more than offering direct services like free delivery of rice in the 1950s, which is too narrow-minded in our society nowadays,'' he said.