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SWD's response to Ombudsman's report

     The Social Welfare Department (SWD) appreciates and respects the investigation report of the Office of the Ombudsman and would review relevant rules under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme as appropriate.

     A spokesman for the SWD said today (January 10), "As the CSSA Scheme is entirely funded by general revenue, the Government has the responsibility to make reasonable allocation of the resources and ensure the sustainability of the social security system. The SWD therefore needs to impose income and asset tests under the CSSA Scheme."

     In executing the income and asset tests, the SWD needs to strike a fair balance. In making compassionate arrangements to allow elderly or disabled CSSA recipients to continue living in their original homes, the SWD has to ensure that public funds are spent properly and are used to assist the most needy families or persons.

     According to the CSSA Scheme, all applicants for CSSA must pass both its income and asset tests. The rules concerning CSSA recipients with self-owned residential properties include the following:

(1) For the asset test, the value of an owner-occupied residential property will be totally disregarded if any member in the household is old, disabled or medically certified to be in ill health.

(2) For the income test, any financial contributions (including financial support from family members or relatives) received by CSSA recipients for purchasing properties or other assets will be calculated as their "assessable income". The CSSA entitlement in the ensuing month will thus be adjusted, taking into account any amounts so received.

     The spokesman said that the above two rules, which are based on different grounds and principles, are not contradictory to each other. Regarding the asset test [Rule (1)], the waiver is based on compassionate grounds to allow elderly or disabled CSSA recipients to continue living in their original homes and familiar districts so that they can enjoy the established neighbourhood relationships. Regarding the income test [Rule (2)], CSSA is intended as the last safety net for people facing economic hardship. CSSA recipients should first use their own economic resources, including financial support from relatives or friends, to cope with their basic necessities.

     He stressed that under the CSSA Scheme, the purchase of a residential flat is not considered as a basic necessity. If CSSA recipients are given a choice to prioritise funds/resources supplied by family members or relatives to individual exempted items (e.g. an owner-occupied flat) in order to be eligible for CSSA, instead of making use of the funds/resources to cope with their basic necessities, this will violate the purpose of the CSSA Scheme as a safety net of last resort.

     CSSA applicants are required to apply on a household basis since family members should support one another. When approving CSSA applications, the SWD will assess the status of each case to ensure that each family with financial difficulties will be offered appropriate assistance.

Ends/Thursday, January 10, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:05


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