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LCQ2: Permissible limit of absence from Hong Kong for Old Age Allowance recipients

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (November 24):


     Over the past few years, the various sectors in the community have all along been concerned about the permissible limit of absence from Hong Kong ("absence limit") for Old Age Allowance ("OAA"). Meanwhile, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address delivered on October 13, 2010 that the absence limit for OAA recipients under the Social Security Allowance Scheme would be relaxed so that the minimum residence period in Hong Kong would be reduced from 90 to 60 days. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities have statistics on how many, on average, of those elderly who move from Hong Kong to reside on the Mainland each year at present are eligible for OAA and, among them, how many of them have applied for OAA;

(b) given that the authorities have indicated that as a judicial review of the existing policy is underway, they will consider whether to remove the absence limit for OAA recipients when the situation becomes clearer, whether the authorities have planned when they will announce whether or not to remove the absence limit after the judicial review case is closed; and

(c) whether the Social Welfare Department ("SWD") had received requests for assistance in the past three years from Hong Kong residents residing on the Mainland that they had no place to live when they returned to Hong Kong to apply for OAA, and how SWD will help the elderly persons who encounter such difficulties in the coming year?


     The Social Security Allowance (SSA) Scheme comprises Old Age Allowance (OAA) and Disability Allowance (DA). As it is a non-contributory and largely non-means-tested social security scheme funded entirely by general revenue, the current policy requires, as a matter of principle, that recipients must regard Hong Kong as their place of residence and be subject to a permissible limit of absence from Hong Kong (absence limit), which is 240 days in a payment year at present.

     There are calls in the community for relaxing the absence limit for OAA recipients. In response to these calls, and given the projection that Hong Kong's population will become more mobile in future, the Administration has, after a thorough review, proposed to substantially increase the absence limit to 305 days, and correspondingly reduce the minimum residence period for entitlement to the absence limit from 90 to 60 days. The minimum residence period of 60 days is set having regard to the definition of "Mobile Resident" captured in the "Hong Kong Resident Population" compiled by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD).  The new arrangement will also apply to DA recipients.

     We briefed the Panel on Welfare Services on the new arrangement earlier this month. The new arrangement is expected to take effect from February next year if it is approved by the Finance Committee next month.

     My reply to the different parts of the Hon WONG Kwok-kin's question is set out below:

(a) The Government does not keep statistics of elders having moved from Hong Kong to reside on the Mainland each year.  However, according to a survey conducted by C&SD in 2007, about 88 000 Hong Kong residents then aged 65 or above resided or stayed substantially on the Mainland, ie residing on the Mainland for at least one month during the six months before the reference time-point of the survey.

     Of the 88 000 residents mentioned above, 26 000 and 62 000 had reached the eligible age of Normal OAA and Higher OAA respectively. Of these, 40 000 were OAA recipients and 18 000 were Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. The latter included 3 000 recipients who had joined the Portable CSSA Scheme.  

     Since C&SD did not collect in the survey information on the asset levels of respondents, and we do not have any information on the respondents' duration of stay in Hong Kong each year now and then, we are unable to estimate how many of the remaining 30 000 elders are eligible for OAA.

(b) As pointed out by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin, the existing policy on absence limits under the social security schemes is being challenged by way of judicial review. We will consider the way forward when the situation becomes clearer. Given the many uncertainties, at this stage we can only promise to complete the related work as soon as possible.

     That said, we have already embarked on a feasibility study to examine the merit of introducing a maintenance allowance for elders who choose to retire on the Mainland, and the legal, financial and technical issues involved.

(c) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) does not keep statistics of Hong Kong residents residing on the Mainland who have sought assistance because they have no place to live when returning to Hong Kong to apply for OAA. In fact, in order to be eligible for OAA, OAA applicants must have resided in Hong Kong continuously for at least one year immediately before the date of application. Applicants therefore should have a place to live in Hong Kong.

     Generally speaking, for a Hong Kong resident who has lost his residence owing to natural disaster, financial hardship, family crisis, etc. and requires immediate Government assistance, SWD will consider the actual circumstances of the assistance seeker (including whether he can stay with his family, whether he has an appropriate carer, his supporting network and disposable resources, etc), and provide him with appropriate assistance such as short-term financial assistance for the purposes of meeting rental payments and expenses of moving homes, arranging for admission to urban hostels for single persons and temporary shelters, etc.

Ends/Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Issued at HKT 13:09


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