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LCQ16: Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 22):

Question :

     The Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme (WITSS) has been accepting applications since October last year.  The Government originally estimated that about 436 000 people would meet the eligibility criteria and assumed that half of them (ie 218 000 people) would apply for the subsidy.  The Government sought funding at an amount of $4,805 million in respect of WITSS, and would employ 200 additional staff.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of applicants and the total amount of subsidy disbursed under WITSS so far, with a breakdown of the respective numbers of persons receiving subsidy at full rate (ie $600 per month) and half rate (ie $300 per month) by District Council districts; among these applicants, of the number of those who had submitted applications under the pilot Transport Support Scheme (TSS) which was introduced in 2007, and the percentage of such number in the total number of TSS applicants; further, of the number of additional staff employed and the administration cost involved in respect of WITSS so far;

(b) as it has been reported that there were only 22 000 WITSS applications as at the middle of last month, which were far fewer than the Government's original estimation, whether the authorities have looked into and assessed the reasons for that, and whether they include factors such as the income thresholds being too low, the requirement of the household-based means test on applicants, the cumbersome application procedures and the lack of publicity, etc; how the authorities deal with expenses and manpower so wasted due to the wrong estimation of the number of applicants; whether they will formulate measures shortly to improve the situation that the number of applications is too low; if not, of the reasons for that;

(c) whether the authorities have received any enquiry or complaint from TSS recipients about the implementation of WITSS; if they have, of the number of enquiries or complaints received so far and their contents; of the means (including exercising discretion power, etc) to assist those low-income earners who are not able to obtain the subsidy as the means test under WITSS is conducted on household basis; and

(d) whether the authorities will reconsider conducting a comprehensive review as soon as possible on the income thresholds and the basis of means test conducted under WITSS, etc so that WITSS can relieve genuinely the burden of travelling expenses on low-income employed persons?

Reply :


     My reply to the Hon Frederick Fung's question is as follows:

(a) By February 20, 2012, the Labour Department (LD) had received 24 308 applications involving 26 563 applicants, and 18 566 of them had been granted subsidy payment of $63 million in total.  The number of approved applicants broken down by District Council district is at Annex.

     Of the 26 563 applicants, 8 412 live in the four districts covered by the Transport Support Scheme (TSS) (ie Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, North and Islands districts). Of these, 2 747 had been admitted to TSS, which is about 6.3% of all TSS admitted applicants.  

     To implement the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme, LD is currently provided with an additional 260 staff.  The monthly expense for their remuneration is about $5.06 million.

(b) The number of potential beneficiaries of the WITS Scheme estimated by the Administration earlier was based on statistics of household income and working hours only.  However, as the Census and Statistics Department did not have information on household assets, we were unable to tell how many of them could also meet the asset requirement of the scheme.  Moreover, whether an eligible person would ultimately apply for the subsidy and when he/she would submit the application were subject to other personal factors.  Therefore, the figure provided at the time was no more than a rough indication for reference, and was not the exact or target number of eligible persons or beneficiaries.

     Since this is a brand new scheme and it allows applicants to claim subsidies for the preceding 6 to 12 months, in the initial period it is very difficult for us to predict the actual number of applications and the timing of their submission.  Providing sufficient staffing resources at the initial stage was to ensure that the processing of applications would not be unduly delayed owing to inadequate manpower.  We will review the manpower arrangement at an appropriate juncture having regard to the operational experience.

     We just announced at the meeting of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Panel on Manpower on 16th this month that technical adjustments to the income and asset limits of the WITS Scheme would be made with reference to the income data of the fourth quarter of 2011.  The new limits will take effect from March this year.

(c) By February 20, 2012, LD had not received any complaint from TSS recipients about the implementation of the WITS Scheme.  At the same time, LD had received about 44 000 enquiries about the WITS Scheme.  However, since those who made enquiries were not required to indicate whether they had joined TSS before, we do not have statistics in this regard.

     The Government had carefully considered different suggestions when formulating the WITS Scheme.  It was decided that the means test should be conducted on a household basis because in this way the overall economic situation of the household could be fully taken into account.  This could help channel resources to households with greater needs, and would also be consistent with the arrangements for other standing Government financial assistance schemes.  LD will process all applications in accordance with the eligibility criteria approved by the LegCo Finance Committee.

(d) As mentioned in (b) above, we have announced that the income and asset limits of the WITS Scheme will be adjusted upwards starting from next month (March).  We will also carry out a mid-term review as planned to take account of the operational experience in the first year, and conduct a comprehensive review after three years of operation.

Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:23


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