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LCQ16: Singleton elders' after-death arrangements
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     Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kong-wah and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (May 11):

Question:

     It has been reported that there are many elderly singletons in Hong Kong who do not have any relative or friend to take care of their after-death arrangements.  Moreover, according to the figures of the Census and Statistics Department, in 2001 the number of persons aged 40 or above who had never married was about 179 000, and in 2009 the number had increased to about 294 000.  Owing to the aggravating problem of ageing population in Hong Kong, coupled with the continuous increase in the number of singletons, the demand for services for undertaking the after-death arrangements ("after-death services") for elderly singletons will continue to increase.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether in the past three years the Government has compiled statistics on the monthly average number of elderly singletons in Hong Kong who needed after-death services as they did not have any relative or friend to take care of their after-death arrangements, and whether it has estimated the number of elderly singletons who will need such services in Hong Kong in the next decade; if it has, of the respective figures, and whether there is an upward trend in the demand for such services; if it has not compiled any statistics or made any estimation, whether it will consider following up to find out such service demand;

(b) whether it knows the number of agencies in Hong Kong which are currently providing after-death services for elderly singletons; whether it has assessed if their services are sufficient to meet the demand;

(c) whether the Government will consider allocating resources to provide such services or encouraging more voluntary agencies to provide such services for those elderly singletons in need; and

(d) given that according to the information provided by the Government in its reply to my question on May 5, 2010, the sums of unclaimed estate transferred to the general revenue of the Government amounted to $7,980,000 in the 2009-2010 financial year, whether the authorities will use such sums to help those elderly singletons in need with their after-death arrangements?

Reply:

President,

     My reply to the Hon Lau Kong-wah's question is as follows:

(a) to (c)  Owing to various reasons, some deceased people might not have relatives or friends to take care of their after-death arrangements, thus requiring assistance from other organisations or designated persons.  The Government does not keep statistics on the number of elderly singletons among them.

     In fact, we encourage elders, whether singletons or not, to plan their after-death arrangements in advance, so that their families, relatives or designated organisations or persons can take care of the arrangements according to their wishes.  

     At present, there are over 200 Government subvented elderly centres in Hong Kong.  They organise talks and seminars, covering topics such as will-making, estate administration, funeral arrangements, etc.  These centres also pay special attention to elders' demand for hospice service and offer them advice.  Elders in need will be referred to relevant organisations for further assistance.

     Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the St. James' Settlement, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care, and the Caritas Hong Kong íV Services for the Elderly, assist elders in the planning of after-death matters.  Their services include consultation on funeral arrangements, will-making, photo-taking or preparation of photographs for after-death ceremonies, as well as counselling the bereaved, etc.  For welfare services which benefit the elderly (including hospice service), the Government will provide support as far as possible.  Even if the services are self-financing or voluntary in nature, we can still consider coordinating district efforts to promote them, or recommending the NGOs for grants under various funds.

     Besides, there are currently seven licensed funeral parlours which are also holding Undertakers of Burials Licences, and another 94 licensed undertakers in the territory.  All of them may provide one-stop after-death services, including making funeral and burial arrangements, and submitting applications for burial or cremation.  Lists of these service providers have been uploaded onto the website of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

(d) According to the Probate and Administration Ordinance, unclaimed balance of the deceasedíŽs estate will be transferred to the General Revenue.  We will make use of the General Revenue having regard to policy and service needs in various areas.

Ends/Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:33

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