Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by Hon Frederick Fung on Transport Support Scheme in the Legislative Council today (October 24):
The Government launched a pilot Transport Support Scheme ("TSS") in June this year to help needy unemployed persons and low-income employees living in Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, North and Islands districts to work across districts. Low-income employees may receive a Cross-district Transport Allowance of $600 per month for up to six months, while job seekers and those who wish to change jobs may receive a Job Search Allowance of up to $600. According to government information, only 4 071 applications were recorded as of the end of this September, accounting for only 5% of the estimated 80 000 applicants, and the amount of allowances involved represented only 0.4% of the commitment set aside for this purpose. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) how the TSS has been implemented in the districts concerned, including the respective numbers of applicants and beneficiaries as well as the total amount of allowance granted so far in respect of each district;
(b) of the number of complaints received so far about the TSS and their subjects, as well as the number of substantiated abuse cases;
(c) given the public's lukewarm response to the TSS, whether it will consider conducting a review immediately to find out the reasons for that;
(d) whether it will consider immediately stepping up publicity, streamlining the application procedures, increasing the amount of allowances, or relaxing the eligibility criteria, such as relaxing its restriction on district of residence to make it a territory-wide scheme, raising the personal asset limit or income limit, lowering the number of monthly working hours required and relaxing the restriction on the districts where the applicants go to work from another district (e.g covering frontier closed areas); and
(e) whether it will consider allocating additional resources to provide support for the scheme's participants on various fronts, such as home visits or referral services, as well as extending the duration of the TSS?
For the purpose of assessing the required expenditure, the Secretariat of the Commission on Poverty estimated that among those eligible, 80 000 persons might apply for allowances under the Transport Support Scheme (TSS), and therefore proposed in April this year to earmark non-recurrent funding of $365 million for the one-year pilot Scheme. The estimate took into account the number of unemployed persons as well as the income and working hours of low-income employees in the four remote districts concerned.
(a) The pilot TSS was launched in end-June this year. As at October 15, 2007, the Labour Department (LD) has received 4 385 applications for assessment of eligibility under the Scheme. LD has also approved 4 180 claims of allowances involving a total payout of about $2.29 million. The breakdown by district is set out below:
District No. of applications No. of claims Amount of
received approved claims
Yuen Long 1 987 1 755 0.96million
Tuen Mun 1 463 1 594 0.88million
North 586 460 0.24million
Islands 349 371 0.21million
Total 4 385 4 180 (About)
(b) By mid-October 2007, LD has received 10 complaints against the Scheme. The complaints are classified as follows:
No. of cases
(i) Related to eligibility criteria
* working across districts for 18 hours
or more per week 2
* not covering self-employed 2
* monthly income ceiling of $5,600 1
(ii) Related to non-government organisations (NGOs)
* services provided by NGOs 3
* staff attitude 2
Total : 10
Upon receipt of complaints, LD will contact the relevant NGOs engaged to implement the Scheme to conduct thorough investigation. LD and NGOs have put in place a mechanism to expedite the handling of complaints on service quality of NGOs.
LD has also established a set of procedures to guard against abuses through vetting, counter-checking, auditing and inspection, etc. For example, a computer programme has been devised to detect duplicated applications automatically. LD has so far received no complaint or report on abuse cases.
(c) - (e) As the pilot Scheme has been implemented for just over three months, it is premature to comment on its effectiveness at this stage. The Government has undertaken to conduct a comprehensive review of the Scheme in mid-2008 to assess its effectiveness. By that time, the Government will draw on the operational experience as well as views and suggestions from the community to decide on the way forward. We have been stepping up our publicity efforts to promote the Scheme. If the response of applicants in the coming three months is unsatisfactory, we will consider bringing forward the review.
In designing the pilot Scheme, the Government has considered applicants' possible need for other support. Therefore, NGOs engaged to implement the TSS are those with experience in delivering training and employment assistance. Apart from assisting LD in implementing the Scheme in accordance with specified procedures, these NGOs will offer training advice and employment assistance to applicants as appropriate.
To enhance eligible residents' understanding of the TSS and its arrangements, LD has launched a series of publicity and promotional activities, including radio broadcasts, bus-body advertising, newspaper advertisements, publicity leaflets, posters, dedicated website and display of wall/street banners in the four designated districts. LD will continue to strengthen the publicity efforts in promoting the TSS through various channels.
Ends/Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Issued at HKT 13:15