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LCQ13: SWD social workers acting as appointees of CSSA applicants

     Following is a question by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):


     Recently, a number of Social Work Officers (SWOs) working in the Social Welfare Department (SWD) have reflected to me that SWD requires them to use their personal identity card (ID card) numbers to act as the appointees of some Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) applicants who are under 18 years old without legal guardians and some adults who have been medically certified to be unfit to apply for CSSA on their own, for the purpose of applying for CSSA on their behalf. These SWOs relayed to the relevant policy bureau early last year that such an arrangement seriously infringed the privacy of the staff concerned. At that time, the policy bureau undertook to modify the computer system so that the staff concerned could use the numbers of their government staff cards or departmental staff cards instead of their personal ID card numbers to apply for CSSA on behalf of the persons concerned as appointees. However, when these SWOs followed up this matter with the bureau early this year, the bureau pointed out that as the numbers of government staff cards or departmental staff cards were not unique and would easily cause confusion, it therefore refused to revise the relevant arrangement. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the existing number of CSSA cases in which appointees have been appointed by SWD; the number of SWOs in SWD involved in these cases; whether SWD and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (OPCPD) had received complaints from SWOs in the past three years about the aforesaid arrangement; if they had, of the relevant figures;

(b) whether SWD has sought the opinion of OPCPD on whether the aforesaid arrangement contravenes the provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486); if it has, of the results; if it has not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether SWD has any plan to revise the existing arrangement of requiring its SWOs to use their personal ID card numbers to apply for CSSA on behalf of the aforesaid persons as appointees; if it has, of the details of the plan and the implementation timetable; if it has not, the reasons for that?



     If an applicant for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) is aged below 18 and without parents or a legal guardian, or is aged 18 or above but has been certified by a medical officer as physically unfit to make an application in person, the Director of Social Welfare (DSW) will appoint an appointee to handle on behalf of the applicant matters related to his CSSA application.

     In general, a relative or friend of an applicant, or any other person who holds an adult Hong Kong Identity Card (HKIC) and is willing to bear the responsibilities of an appointee (which mainly include making the CSSA application and declaration therewith on behalf of the applicant, and collecting, managing and using the assistance payments), may act as an appointee. If the applicant has no relative, friend or any other person who is suitable to act as his appointee, DSW will appoint a social worker of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to do so.

(a) As at the end of June 2011, there were 27 236 CSSA cases in which the appointee was appointed by DSW. SWD social workers were appointees for 2 808 of them, and 647 staff members were involved.

     The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (the Office) informed SWD in writing on May 19 this year that they had recently received an enquiry about the need for SWD social workers who acted as appointees to provide personal data. The Office requested SWD to supply relevant information for ascertaining whether its practice of collecting the personal data of appointees was in compliance with provisions under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486). Besides, the relevant staff association of SWD has also expressed concern about the same matter.

(b) Any person (including social workers of SWD) applying for CSSA on behalf of a CSSA applicant in his capacity as an appointee must provide his HKIC number so as to help SWD ascertain his eligibility for being an appointee. SWD will handle the data according to its internal guideline on the processing of personal data.  The guideline reminds all staff that they have to use, process and store personal data, including ensuring against the unauthorised use of or access to the data, according to provisions under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486).

     To ensure that public funds are properly spent and to prevent pecuniary loss to CSSA recipients, SWD has to accurately identify appointees. At present, HKIC is the only secure and unique identification document for staff of the social security field units (SSFUs) of SWD to identify appointees (including social workers of SWD who act as appointees) in a clear and definite manner for effecting CSSA payments. In particular, when an appointee approaches an SSFU for immediate advance of cash for a recipient, staff of the SSFU must rely on a valid identity document to verify the identity of the appointee before offering immediate assistance. If an appointee is found stealing or deceiving CSSA payments, the HKIC number will help SWD and the police identify the HKIC holder for prosecution and/or claims for compensation.

     SWD has consulted the Department of Justice on the practice of having social workers of SWD acting as appointees. The legal advice was that requiring an appointed SWD social worker to provide his HKIC number for record purpose when he applies for CSSA on behalf of an applicant for the purpose of identifying this appointee accurately was in compliance with the requirements of the "Code of Practice on the Identity Card Number and other Personal Identifiers" issued by the Office, and also in the interest of the HKIC holder. Besides, the legal advice pointed out that SWD might, based on Section 5 of the Registration of Persons Ordinance (Cap. 177), require any person registered thereunder to, in all dealings with the Government, furnish his HKIC number and as far as practicable the HKIC number of any other person whose particulars he was required by law to furnish.

(c) As regards cases involving social workers of SWD acting as appointees, SWD has considered the feasibility of using other proofs of identity such as the Government Identity Card number/Departmental Identity Card number as substitute for the HKIC number. However, the numbers of such proofs may be changed and replaced. Moreover, other information shown thereon may be outdated. Therefore, they are not safe and unique means for identification purpose, and the use of them to replace the HKIC number might result in a higher risk of mistakes in the release of CSSA payments when appointees approach SSFUs for immediate advance of cash for recipients. For the above reasons, SWD is still adopting the existing arrangement at the moment, but will continue to explore the feasibility of using other identity documents to replace the HKIC.

Ends/Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:34


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