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LCQ5: Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):

Question :

     Travelling expenses are an important item of daily expenses borne by the vast number of employees and job-seekers in Hong Kong.   Although the authorities have recently announced the specific contents and application details for the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme which has been receiving applications since October this year, there are still voices in society calling for further review and improvement of the Scheme, so that more low-income workers and grassroots may benefit from the Scheme.  In this connection, will the executive authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the total number of applications received by the authorities since the WITS Scheme started receiving applications in October this year; among such applications, of the number and percentage of those which meet the criteria for receiving the subsidy; the relevant figures under the old Transport Support Scheme (TSS) in the past 12 months;

(b) whether they will undertake to consider conducting an immediate review of all the details of the WITS Scheme (including simplifying and improving its application procedure, as well as re-assessing and announcing the latest number of people who will benefit from the Scheme), instead of waiting for a year to conduct a mid-term review; if they will, of the details of the specific ideas; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether they will undertake to include in the review of the WITS Scheme a study on allowing applicants to choose to be means-tested on an individual or household basis, relaxing the income and asset limits for households, increasing the amount of monthly subsidy for each successful applicant, as well as subsuming the Job Search Allowance provided under the old TSS under the WITS Scheme; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


Acting Madam President,

     My reply to the Hon Wong Sing-chi's questions is as follows:

(a) By the end of October 2011, the Labour Department (LD) had received a total of 14 411 applications under the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme.  These applications are being processed.

     With the launch of the WITS Scheme, we have ceased accepting new applications for the Transport Support Scheme (TSS), which was applicable to four remote districts in the New Territories only, since October 1 this year.  In the preceding 12 months (i.e. October 2010 to September 2011), LD received 3 533 TSS applications and approved 3 378 (i.e. 95.6%) of them.

(b) As the WITS Scheme has just started receiving applications since October 3, our current priority is to ensure that eligible applicants can benefit from the subsidy as soon as possible.  We will closely monitor the implementation of the WITS Scheme and carry out a mid-term review having regard to the experience gained during the first year of operation.  If circumstances warrant, we will consider advancing the review.

     I would also like to clarify that the estimated number of beneficiaries provided by the Administration earlier was based on statistics of household income distribution and working hours of employed persons.  As the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) does not have information on household assets, that factor could not be taken into account.  As a result, the figure provided at the time was no more than a rough indication for reference and not the exact number of eligible persons or beneficiaries.  

(c) When formulating the WITS Scheme, we did carefully consider the suggestion of allowing applicants to choose to be means-tested individually or on a household basis (the so-called "dual-track approach").  We finally decided to adopt the current approach, and fully explained the reasons when we sought funding from the Legislative Council.  

     The income and asset thresholds of the WITS Scheme were set having regard to the arrangements for other Government financial assistance schemes and household income statistics.  We will closely monitor the changes in these indicators and review the thresholds at an appropriate juncture.  As to the subsidy rate, C&SD's statistics in the second quarter of 2010 indicated that the target beneficiaries of the WITS Scheme spent, on average, $410 each month on public transport for travelling to and from work, while those who had to work across districts spent $460.  Hence, the current subsidy level (i.e. full subsidy of $600 per month) should be able to effectively relieve the burden of transport costs on most of the beneficiaries.  We shall update the relevant statistics for reference in due course.

     When we sought funding approval from the Legislative Council, we had already explained why the WITS Scheme would not have a Job Search Allowance (JSA).  It was mainly because of the experience of TSS.  The demand for JSA under TSS was not strong; most of the TSS beneficiaries had been employed when they were admitted to TSS; and JSA only accounted for a very small part of the amount of subsidy approved.  To give the WITS Scheme a clearer focus, our resources will be directed to helping the employed persons.  

Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:31


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