Government will take flexible approach to cash handout scheme, Hong Kong’s No 2 official vows, amid complaints application process is too complicated
- Acting chief executive Matthew Cheung responds to concerns some of those eligible for HK$4,000 will struggle to get it
- Application form requires proof of address, which city’s poor don’t always have
Hong Kong’s No 2 official has told government departments to handle applications for a cash handout of up to HK$4,000 with flexibility, following complaints the scheme is too complicated.
Distribution of application forms for the Caring and Sharing Scheme began on Monday.
Under the scheme, Hong Kong residents aged 18 and above will get up to HK$4,000 if they do not own property or benefit from government allowances.
Those who are given tax breaks will get the difference between HK$4,000 and the concessionary amount.
Some district councillors said application forms quickly ran out on Monday and people were confused about how to fill them in.
On Tuesday, acting chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said it was not reasonable some people had been told to bring their own paper to print the forms.
“We must do our very best to make it user-friendly,” Cheung – standing in while Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is in Switzerland – said.
While the scheme is expected to benefit 2.8 million Hongkongers, Cheung said the government had printed a million forms so far, and was ready to print more.
He also responded to criticism that the poorest residents would not be able to get the handout, as they lack documents such as proof of address, or a bank statement, which they need to complete the application.
“We will continue to be flexible in handling applications,” Cheung said, without elaborating.
He also said the government had tried its best to keep the application process simple by only requesting essential data from applicants.
Cheung said the government had considered allowing people to apply online, but said tendering and building a new reliable system could have taken up to 18 months. Doing so would only have delayed the distribution of the cash handout, he said.
Information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok, however, said Cheung was exaggerating the time it takes to build an online platform.
“Any IT tender could complete the infrastructure in three months, at worst six months,” he said.
Mok pointed out the Immigration Department’s smart ID project, which involved multiple tenders, was completed within two years.
Sham Shui Po district councillor Kalvin Ho Kai-ming, of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, said many people living in subdivided flats would not be able to easily provide a proof of address.
“Their names are not on the utility bills,” Ho said.
People in subdivided flats usually pay the landlord for electricity and water.
Ho also said the government had made it unnecessarily complicated, noting that when it gave out a HK$6,000 cash handout in 2011, the application process had been much simpler.
A government spokesman said those with no means of submitting a proof of address needed to set out their reasons in writing for consideration.
“For the homeless, they need to report the locations at which they stay and a valid means of contact,” he said.
As for those without a bank account, the spokesman said they could pick up a cash cheque should their application be successful.
The cash handout of up to HK$4,000 was not part of the government’s budget plan from last February.
After facing huge pressure to share its wealth with residents, the administration announced the scheme in March.
Applications to the scheme will be open between February 1 and April 30.
Additional reporting by Alvin Lum