LCQ10: Workload of Social Security Assistants

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 10):


     I have recently received complaints from quite a number of Social Security Assistants that the workload of the Social Security Branch under the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has increased continuously over the years but there was no increase in its manpower in the past 20 years, resulting in tremendous increase in work pressure on staff.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of Senior Social Security Assistants and Social Security Assistants employed by SWD at present; the average monthly numbers of cases under the social security schemes needed to be handled respectively by an assistant of these two ranks;

(b) of the changes in the manpower of these two ranks in each of the past 20 years and the average monthly number of cases needed to be handled by an assistant each year; and

(c) whether there are any guidelines specifying a cap on the number of cases handled by an assistant per month; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Social Welfare Department (SWD) operates 37 Social Security Field Units (SSFUs) which are responsible for processing applications for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and Social Security Allowance, etc.  Both departmental and general grade staff work in the SSFU.  Departmental grade staff comprise Social Security Officers and Social Security Assistants.  In general, Social Security Assistant grade staff (including Social Security Assistants (SSAs) and Senior Social Security Assistants (SSSAs)) are responsible for conducting investigation into and assessment on various types of cases while Social Security Officer grade staff (including Social Security Officers II and Social Security Officers I) are responsible for vetting and approving cases and office administration.

     My reply to the three parts of the Hon Cheung Kwok-che's question is set out belowˇV

(a) and (b) When assessing the workload of the SSFU staff, one should not only focus on the number of cases without considering the actual distribution of cases by category and the workflow.  As the level of complexity of different categories of cases varies, their handling procedures and time involved naturally also differ.

     As at January 2010, there were 557 SSA and 414 SSSA posts in the SSFUs of SWD.  Since SWD has re-engineered the workflow of SSFUs when the Computerised Social Security System became operational in October 2000, the procedures for and time required in handling cases after October 2000 have become very different from before.  It would therefore be inappropriate to make a direct comparison between the figures of the two periods.

     The establishment of SSA grade staff and the caseload handled in the past twenty years are at Annex 1 and Annex 2 respectively.

(c) As mentioned above, SSFUs are responsible for processing applications for CSSA and Social Security Allowance, etc.  As the nature and level of complexity of each type of cases are different (for example, the level of complexity and amount of work required for a CSSA unemployment case is different from those of a CSSA elderly case), and SWD is responsible for providing assistance and services to all applicants in need in a timely manner, we cannot simply impose a cap on the number of cases handled by a SSA grade staff per month.  Nonetheless, SWD will deploy staff fairly on a need basis and will seek additional resources as and when necessary.

     SWD has implemented various initiatives in the past 10 years to alleviate the workload and work pressure of SSA grade staff, which include:

(a) creating posts when resources are available;
(b) implementing risk management to improve resources allocation and efficiency;
(c) streamlining work procedures;
(d) re-engineering resources by setting up a centralised unit to handle special cases, including cases involving debt recovery and fraud investigation, etc.; and
(e) commissioning non-governmental organisations to provide employment assistance services for CSSA recipients participating in the Support for Self-reliance Scheme.

     SWD will continue to review the workload of frontline staff from time to time, deploy or seek additional manpower resources as appropriate, and/or adjust the workflow.

Ends/Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Issued at HKT 11:45