Opening remarks by SLW at joint press conference (with video)

     Following is the opening remarks by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at a joint press conference held at Central Government Offices, Tamar, today (July 16):

     The Chief Executive announced in the Legislative Council (LegCo) this afternoon the introduction of a new Old Age Living Allowance Scheme.

     The aim of the Scheme is to deliver the pledge in the Chief Executive's election manifesto.

     Eligible applicants of the new scheme will receive a monthly allowance of $2,200, which is more than double the current Old Age Allowance of $1,090.

     As the new scheme caters for our needy senior citizens, there will be an income and asset assessment by way of a simple declaration by the applicants themselves.

     We will go for a user-friendly approach and adopt the current means-test thresholds and mechanism applicable to the Normal Old Age Allowance.

     Specifically, for a single elderly person, the monthly income limit will be $6,660 while the asset limit will be $186,000. For a married couple, the monthly income limit will be $10,520 while the asset limit will be set at $281,000.

     Other eligibility criteria such as residence requirements and no double social security benefits will continue to apply.

     As I said earlier, the assessment will be user-friendly. Money received from family members, relatives or friends will be excluded from the definition of income, while the value of one residential property which is the principal place of the applicant's residence will also be disregarded in the calculation of assets.

     The qualifying age for the new scheme is 65 and above, meaning that all needy elders aged 65 or above can join. Meanwhile, the existing Old Age Allowance of $1,090 per month will remain open and unchanged for those aged 70 or above who have no financial need to apply for the cross-over to the new Old Age Allowance Scheme. They need not go through any income and asset assessment as at present. For those with genuine financial need, I would encourage them to switch to the new Old Age Living Allowance without hesitation.

     We expect more than 400 000 elderly citizens to benefit from the Scheme and this will result in additional annual cash payment of around $6 billion. We will leave no stone unturned in getting this scheme off the ground as quickly as possible. However, we appreciate that preparatory work for the Scheme will inevitably take some time. The Social Welfare Department, for example, will need to enhance its staffing and computer support. However, our aim is to roll out as soon as possible and certainly early next year.

     We fully understand that our senior citizens hope to receive the new allowance as soon as possible. As a special arrangement, we will adopt the date of approval of the scheme by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council as the effective date of the Scheme. In order to secure early approval, we shall seek LegCo's agreement to convene a special Finance Committee meeting in early October. If all goes well, the effective date can be as early as October this year, meaning that the first payment can date back to the effective date once the application is approved.

     We will take every step to shorten the lead time for implementation to ensure that our needy elderly citizens can receive stronger and better financial support as early as possible.

Ends/Monday, July 16, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:35