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LCQ2: Absence limit under Old Age Allowance Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     At present, an increasing number of elderly persons in Hong Kong choose to return to their hometowns on the Mainland to spend their twilight years.  However, as recipients of Old Age Allowance (OAA) have to comply with residence requirements, these elderly persons have to return to Hong Kong on a regular basis.  Some elderly persons have relayed to me that because of those requirements, not only do they have to make tiring journeys between Hong Kong and the Mainland, but they also have to keep their residence in Hong Kong, which increases their living costs.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) since the relaxation of the permissible limit of absence from Hong Kong for OAA recipients in October 2005, of the annual number of elderly persons who have benefited from the measure, and the percentages of the numbers in the total numbers of OAA recipients in the respective years;

(b) whether the authorities will make reference to the existing arrangements under the Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme and allow elderly persons to continue to receive OAA while permanently residing on the Mainland; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) whether it will consider commissioning non-governmental organisations of Hong Kong operating on the Mainland to verify if OAA recipients residing on the Mainland are still alive; if it will, when such plan will be implemented; if not, of the reasons for that?



     Old Age Allowance (OAA) under the Social Security Allowance (SSA) Scheme provides cash allowance to Hong Kong residents aged 65 or above to meet their special needs arising from old age.  The SSA Scheme is a non-contributory social security scheme funded entirely by general revenue.  As such, recipients must regard Hong Kong as their place of residence, and are subject to a permissible limit of absence from Hong Kong (absence limit).  

     Since October 1, 2005, the absence limit under the SSA Scheme has been increased from 180 days to 240 days a year.  Recipients are eligible for the absence limit as long as they have resided in Hong Kong for not less than 90 days in a payment year.  Specifically, a full-year allowance will still be paid to recipients who have been away from Hong Kong for a period no longer than the absence limit.  On the other hand, for recipients who have been away from Hong Kong for a period longer than the absence limit, their allowance will be deducted according to their days of absence in excess of the limit.  For recipients who have stayed in Hong Kong for less than 90 days in a payment year, allowance will still be paid to them for their period of stay in Hong Kong.  The above arrangements apply to all SSA recipients, regardless of where they have been during their absence from Hong Kong.  In implementing the relaxation measure, the Government had taken into account the wish of some elderly persons to spend more time on travelling, visiting relatives or taking up short-term residence outside Hong Kong, while ensuring that public funds are spent on Hong Kong residents who take Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows -

(a) Since the implementation of the new absence limit on October 1, 2005, the number of OAA recipients who benefited from it in the last three months of 2005, the full years of 2006, 2007 and 2008, and from January to October 2009 was 1,526, 6,200, 7,014, 7,570 and 6,288 respectively, representing 0.33%, 1.24%, 1.38%, 1.46% and 1.21% of the total number of OAA recipients in the corresponding periods.  Most of these recipients were able to benefit because their days of absence from Hong Kong originally in excess of the limit were now covered by the new absence limit, resulting in no deduction of their yearly allowance.  As for other beneficiaries, even though they were not entitled to a full-year allowance because their days of absence from Hong Kong were still in excess of the new absence limit, they were able to receive an additional 60 days of allowance (i.e. the difference between the old and new absence limits) compared to the amount of allowance they were entitled to receive before the absence limit was extended.

(b) & (c) The Government introduced the Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (PCSSA) Scheme in 1997 to enable elderly recipients who choose to reside permanently in Guangdong Province to continue to receive cash assistance under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme.  Since August 1, 2005, the PCSSA Scheme has been extended to Fujian Province.  The eligibility for the Scheme has also been relaxed to allow elderly persons on CSSA for at least one year (instead of three years) to participate.

     Unlike the CSSA Scheme, the majority of OAA applicants are not means-tested.  Thus, OAA recipients are not limited to those in financial hardship.  The number of elders on OAA is also much higher than that on CSSA.  For the above reasons, direct comparison between the CSSA Scheme and OAA would not be appropriate.

     As explained above, in the light of the purpose and nature of the SSA Scheme, it is necessary to impose a limit on absence from Hong Kong to ensure that public funds are spent on Hong Kong residents who take Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence.  At the same time, an absence period is permissible under the Scheme to allow elderly persons to take up short-term residence on the Mainland or in other places.  This arrangement serves to strike an appropriate balance between the proper use of public funds and the convenience of OAA recipients.

     We are now reviewing this aspect and conducting an in-depth study on the feasibility of further increasing the absence limit.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:40


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