LCQ11: Compassionate Rehousing and Conditional Tenancy Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Shiu Ka-chun and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):


     At present, applications for Compassionate Rehousing (CR) in respect of which (i) referrals must first have been made, after comprehensive assessment, by social workers or approved persons and (ii) recommendations must then have been made, after vetting and approval, by the District Social Welfare Officers (DSWOs) in the District Social Welfare Offices under the Social Welfare Department (SWD) before the Housing Department (HD) will consider approving allocation of public rental housing (PRH) units to the applicants.  The Conditional Tenancy (CT) scheme under the CR scheme has been set up for application by those who have no place to live while awaiting a divorce decree.  Some social workers have pointed out that although the rents for private housing have continued to rise and the waiting time for PRH has become increasingly longer in recent years, the respective numbers of CT application and CR application (not including the former) (CT/CR applications) recommended by DSWOs have dropped year after year, from 385 and 2 103 in 2011-2012 to 111 and 986 in 2015-2016 respectively (as at December 2015).  Those social workers have also pointed out that they are under tremendous stress in handling such applications, the criteria adopted by DSWOs for vetting and approving applications are inconsistent and the relevant mechanism lacks transparency.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether SWD has tightened the criteria for making recommendations on CT/CR applications in recent years; if SWD has not, whether the authorities will study the reasons for the progressive decrease in recent years in the numbers of such applications which were recommended by DSWOs;
(2) of the respective numbers of CT/CR applications (i) in respect of which referrals were received by various DSWOs, (ii) in respect of which recommendations were made by various DSWOs, and (iii) approved by HD, in each of the past five years (with a tabulated breakdown by District Social Welfare Office);
(3) of the current mechanism for ensuring that various DSWOs adopt consistent criteria in considering CT/CR applications;
(4) whether SWD will make reference to the Standardised Care Need Assessment Mechanism for Elderly Services and establish a standardised mechanism for vetting and approving CT/CR applications; and
(5) of the plan in place to assist social workers in relieving the stress facing them when handling CT/CR applications?



     Compassionate Rehousing (CR) is a form of special housing assistance which aims at providing housing assistance to individuals and families with genuine and imminent housing needs but owing to their social and medical needs (if applicable) under specific circumstances, have no other feasible means to solve their housing problems.  Eligible clients will be allocated public rental housing (PRH) units.  Under CR, the Conditional Tenancy (CT) Scheme aims at providing housing assistance to those persons who have genuine and imminent long-term housing needs while in the process of divorce, but owing to their social and medical needs (if applicable) under specific circumstances, have no other feasible means to solve their housing problems.  Eligible persons will be allocated temporary accommodation in PRH units in the form of CT, and upon completing the divorce procedures and meeting the eligibility criteria for applying for PRH, they may apply for converting the CTs into normal tenancies.

     My reply to the five parts of the question raised by the Hon Shiu Ka-chun is as follows:

(1) The applications for CR and its CT (except for those processed by the Housing Department (HD) as referred to in (5) below) have to be assessed comprehensively by professional social workers, and recommended to the HD by the Social Welfare Department (SWD).  For this purpose, SWD has formulated the Guidelines and Procedures for Processing Applications for Compassionate Rehousing and Other Housing Assistance (the Guidelines).  In considering whether a case should be recommended for CR and CT, the caseworker of the relevant Integrated Family Service Centre operated by SWD or non-governmental organisation (NGO) will conduct his/her professional assessment, having regard to the specific circumstances of the case and the financial condition of the applicant with reference to the income and asset limits set by the Hong Kong Housing Authority for PRH application.  If the applicant is assessed to have met the eligibility criteria of the Guidelines, the caseworker will submit a recommendation to the officer-in-charge/supervisor of the service unit for consideration.  Each case recommended by the service unit will have to be examined and decided by the respective District Social Welfare Officer of SWD on whether a recommendation should be made to HD.  SWD has not tightened the relevant criteria in the Guidelines in recent years.

     The Government or some community organisations have launched various accommodation assistance schemes in recent years, such as the housing assistance programmes under the Community Care Fund, Light Home/Light Housing, etc., so as to help relieve the housing pressure on the needy persons.  It is believed that these measures may have helped reduce the number of recommended CR and CT cases in recent years.

(2) The numbers of CR and CT cases recommended by SWD in the past five years are tabulated below:
Financial Year No. of CR cases  recommended by SWD to HD
(Not including CT)
No. of CT cases recommended by SWD to HD
2011-12 2 103 385
2012-13 1 863 308
2013-14 1 661 302
2014-15 1 340 198
2015-16 1 236 138

     SWD does not collate the numbers of recommended cases by administrative districts. 

     According to HD, the numbers of cases which were allocated with PRH units through CR (including CT) in the past five years are tabulated below:
Financial Year No. of cases allocated with PRH units
through CR (including CT) (Note)
2011-12 2 673
2012-13 2 213
2013-14 2 092
2014-15 1 663
2015-16 1 458

     HD does not collate the numbers of cases allocated with PRH units through CT, nor the numbers of cases allocated with PRH units through CR (including CT) by administrative districts.

(3) and (4) As mentioned in Part (1) above, all relevant staff responsible for handling CR (including CT under it) cases, including the caseworkers, the officers-in-charge/supervisors or the District Social Welfare Officers of SWD, are required to assess the relevant cases in accordance with the Guidelines in order to achieve consistency over their assessments of the CR and CT applications.
     Having deliberated related issues in the Committee on Integrated Family Service Centres, SWD is currently reviewing and enhancing the assessment criteria and processing procedures/mechanism of CR (including CT) through the Working Group on Review on the Operation of Integrated Family Service Centre Services under the Committee.

(5) SWD has all along been concerned about the working conditions of frontline staff in handling CR cases, and their difficulties and stress induced by the misunderstanding of some members of the public and stakeholders about this special housing assistance scheme.  SWD communicates with these staff regularly so as to better understand the problems encountered by them and to implement suitable measures to relieve their stress.
     To enhance inter-departmental collaboration and rationalise the workflow of handling CR and other housing assistance cases, SWD and HD set up, in 2010, a liaison group at headquarters level and five local liaison groups at district level to have regular meetings.  In the past five years, 11 meetings had been held by the liaison groups to review and streamline the work procedures in handling housing assistance cases.  Various improvement measures have already been put in place, including the arrangement whereby HD directly handles those cases involving splitting of tenancies within a household and transfer of applicants to different PRH units, etc.
     Besides, SWD updated the leaflet "Compassionate Rehousing and Alternative Housing Assistance" in end-April this year after consulting related stakeholders.  SWD has uploaded the updated version onto the SWD homepage.  This should enhance the understanding of the public and related persons on caseworkers' roles in handling CR cases. This should help relieve the stress faced by the frontline staff.

Note: The numbers were the cases allocated with PRH units through CR handled by HD in the respective financial year, including some of the recommended cases received near the end of the last financial year and handled in the respective financial year.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:15