LCQ17: Income declaration for application for public rental housing
A member of the public omitted, when applying for public rental housing (PRH) seven years ago, to declare the wage he earned by working as a casual worker for two days, and was subsequently prosecuted for and convicted of "knowingly making a false statement". Earlier on, he lodged an appeal to the Court of First Instance of the High Court, and the appeal was allowed. Some PRH tenants and PRH applicants have relayed that as the existing forms for income declaration are unclear, they are prone to omit declaration of one-off or irregular income, or wages paid afterwards. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of prosecutions instituted in each of the past five years by the authorities against PRH tenants and PRH applicants for making false statements in income declarations; among them, the number of convicted cases and the respective resultant numbers of (i) PRH tenants being ordered to vacate their PRH flats and (ii) PRH applicants being disqualified from applying for PRH;
(2) among the convicted cases mentioned in (1), of the respective numbers of cases involving under reporting of (i) one-off income, (ii) irregular income and (iii) wages paid afterwards; whether the authorities will, in the light of the aforesaid ruling, take the initiative to review such cases;
(3) as the High Court judge has recommended in the judgement on the aforesaid appeal that the Department of Justice should provide legal advice to the Hong Kong Housing Authority to clarify the definition of declarable income for PRH tenants and PRH applicants, whether the Department has followed up on such recommendation; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether it has assessed the impact of the aforesaid ruling on the income declaration system for PRH tenants and PRH applicants; whether it will step up publicity efforts to clarify to frontline staff of the Housing Department, PRH tenants and PRH applicants the definition and method for calculation of declarable income?
I set out my consolidated reply to various parts of the question raised by Hon Alice Mak as follows.
In the past five years, the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) issued about 970 summonses against public rental housing (PRH) tenants and applicants for charges on "knowingly making false statements" on the ground of furnishing false information. Among these issued summonses, about 880 had been convicted. The conviction rate was over 90 per cent. Among the issued summonses, about 360 were relating to false information of job income. We do not have further breakdown on the different types of cases.
The background and evidence of each convicted prosecution case varies, and may involve different types and periods of income declaration forms. HA believes that the Court had considered all factors sufficiently and carefully before arriving at the verdict.
HA does not keep statistics on the number of PRH units recovered from PRH tenants served with notices to quit due to false declaration. As for PRH applications, in the past five years, about 1 100 applications were cancelled for providing false information.
Regarding the High Court's ruling as mentioned in the question, as of now, HA has yet to receive the formal judgement. Upon receiving the judgement, HA and the Department of Justice will examine it in detail and take appropriate actions.
HA has all along been providing information to PRH tenants on income items which are required to be declared through various channels, including posters, leaflets, website, Housing Channel at public rental estates, meetings of Estate Management Advisory Committee, "Estate Newsletter" and so on. In addition, HA recently distributed the "Housing Subsidy Policy and Policy on Safeguarding Rational Allocation of Public Housing Resources (commonly referred to as the "Well-off Tenants Policies") Declaration Form" (DF) which contains detailed calculation formulas for declaring income and notes for completing the DF, supplemented by "Simplified Guidelines" and "Pictorial Guidelines" to facilitate easy understanding by PRH households, and assist them in filling in the DF.
To assist PRH applicants in completing the application form, HA attaches a copy of the "Application Guide" to the application form for their reference. When the applicants are due for detailed vetting, HA will also send appointment letters inviting them for interview. A copy of the "Notes on Declaration on Income and Assets for completion of Applicant's Declaration" will be enclosed with the letter, listing the income to be declared and details of the calculation methods. At the same time, PRH applicants would know more about how to complete the application form through a short clip "Tips for Filling Out the PRH Application Form" which is uploaded onto the website of HA/Housing Department (HD). The video clip is also broadcast at the HA Customer Service Centre. If applicants have any questions, they may call the HA's hotline or contact HD's staff.
HA will update the above information from time to time in light of circumstances in order to ensure that PRH tenants and applicants have access to the latest information on income declaration.
Ends/Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Issued at HKT 12:40
Issued at HKT 12:40