LCQ14: Combating acts of non-occupation of public rental housing flats by tenants

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a written reply by the Secretary for Housing, Ms Winnie Ho, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):
     In order to expeditiously cut the transmission chains of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 virus in the community, the Government first announced on January 23, 2021 the invocation of the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J) to implement a "stay-in" testing order to cordon off a small area for commencing a restriction-testing declaration (RTD) operation. It has been reported that in a number of RTD operations involving public rental housing (PRH) estates, the Government deployed staff to visit PRH flats to request tenants to undergo compulsory testing, but quite a number of flats did not have anyone to answer the door. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number and percentage of tenants whom the Government could not successfully approach in RTD operations involving PRH estates as at June 30, 2022; whether it has followed up with such tenants to find out the reasons why they did not answer the door (e.g. whether they were unwilling to answer the door, unable to answer the door, not in Hong Kong, and did not often reside in the flats concerned); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether it has taken follow-up actions in respect of the aforesaid tenants who did not often reside in PRH flats, including recovery of the flats concerned; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the Hong Kong Housing Authority will organise a task force comprising retired disciplined services officers to step up inspections of various PRH estates, with a view to actively recovering the flats left unoccupied by tenants, thereby releasing these flats to members of the public waiting for PRH?
     Having consulted the Health Bureau (HHB), our consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip is as follows.
     Since early 2021, the Government has exercised the power under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J) to make "restriction-testing declarations" (hereafter referred to as "Declaration") to specify "restricted area" in various districts according to the risk level. Under the Declaration, people within the specified restricted areas are required to stay in their premises and undergo compulsory testing according to the Government's arrangement (hereafter referred to as restriction-testing declaration (RTD) operation) in order to identify infected cases and cut off the virus transmission chains as soon as possible. The RTD operations are conducted in collaboration by various Government departments. HHB is responsible for determining the buildings which should be subject to the RTD operations; deploying testing contractors; and determining whether the restricted area can be reopened according to the testing results, the corresponding timing and arrangement for the reopening, etc.
     The Government sets up temporary specimen collection stations at the restricted areas and requests people subject to compulsory testing to go downstairs to undergo specimen testing before the specific time on the day of the operations in an orderly manner. During the period from January to June 2022, the Government conducted about 250 RTD operations in public housing estates (PRHs) under the purview of the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA), of which about 120 operations were coordinated by Housing Department. If there were households not answering the doors at the night of the RTD operations, the Government would follow up and deliver notices on the spot to remind them to undergo testing within the specific time in accordance with the compulsory testing notices after the end of the RTD operations. As at the end of June 2022, about 10 per cent of all the PRH households which were required to undergo compulsory testing did not answer the door during the above mentioned RTD operations. After completion of the RTD operations, the Government would take enforcement action by issuing compulsory testing orders and/or fixed penalty notices to the households who had not undergone compulsory testing.
     We understand that there were a number of reasons for those tenants who could not be contacted during the RTD operations. The major ones were that during the operations, the tenants were not staying at the flat, went out to work, returned home after completion of the operations. If HA suspects that there are cases of abuse of PRH units, for example, the flats have not been occupied for a long time or have been left vacant, HA will follow up and conduct investigation in a serious manner. If tenants are found in breach of the tenancy agreement, appropriate tenancy management action, including recovery of the flats, will be taken.
     HA has all along been adopting various strategies to combat abuse of PRH units in a holistic manner. Apart from carrying out routine estate management measures and biennial flat inspections to detect tenancy abuse cases, the Central Dedicated Unit under HA will conduct in-depth investigation on randomly selected cases and suspected abuse cases reported by the public. In addition, HA has already established a Central Task Force Team with experienced frontline management staff and a special team to strengthen investigation on tenancy abuse and investigation after office hours respectively. At the same time, HA will continue to launch a series of publicity and education programmes to convey the message of not to abuse PRH units and to encourage the public to report suspected abuse cases.

Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:50