Hong Kong seniors aged 65-69 with low incomes, and all elderly residents aged 70 and older currently receive a monthly Old Age Allowance of HK$1090 (US$140), commonly known as “fruit money”.
This month (April 2013) the government is rolling out a new, means-tested Old Age Living Allowance of HK$2200 per month for those aged 65 and older. For those who pass a means test, this allowance will replace the “fruit money” (HK$1090) or disability allowance (HK$1400) they currently receive.
This is the first time that Hong Kong residents older than 70 have had to face a means test for state benefits.
Here are highlights (with links) from news reports of the South China Morning Post.
The HK$2,200 new, means-tested old age living allowance will be made available … starting from April, the government said on Thursday. …. The payments will be retroactive to December 1, last year. ….
A single-person applicant has to have a monthly income of less than HK$6,880 and a total asset of less than HK$193,000. The total monthly income for a married couple cannot exceed HK$10,940 and their total assets have to be less than HK$292,000.
Lai Ying-kit, “New means-tested old age allowance to start in April“, South China Morning Post, 31 January, 2013.
Alliance for Universal Pension members protest at Hong Kong Legislative Council. Photo: Felix Wong
Financial support from relatives will not be counted as part of an elderly person’s income, but will be considered assets when assessing his eligibility for a new government allowance ….
Gold teeth and jade jewellery would not be counted, the department said. It will review the asset and income limits annually. ….
Ng Wai-tung, of the non-profit Society for Community Organisation, said the scheme, meant to alleviate poverty, was taking the right direction generally, but looser asset limits were needed.
The government estimated that 400,000 people would benefit, but Ng doubted if the number would be that high, given such tight asset limits.
The added complication of what counted as assets might deter some needy residents, he said.
“[The elderly and their relatives] may also worry about breaking the law, and relatives may end up giving their elderly less money,” he said.
Jennifer Ngo, “Relatives’ cash for elderly to be treated as assets in allowance plan“, South China Morning Post, 1 February 2013.
Residents who are eligible for the new elderly allowance are delighted to get some help to cope with the higher cost of living, but others with just a little too much money in the bank are not happy with the government’s stringent means test.
For Chou Shui, 88, the new HK$2,200 handout is double the original HK$1,090 in “fruit money” he has been receiving. Chou will use it to pay the medical bills of his wife, 77, who has been bedridden since a stroke three years ago, he says. ….
But Leung Wei-chun, 80, who also spends most of her money on medical treatment, has failed the means test. Her savings exceeded the HK$193,000 assets cap by a little, she said.
“You’ve got to understand us old folks; we’re used to being frugal,” Leung said. “I can’t just use up that money quickly just so I can get [the allowance].” ….
[Leung] was widowed 40 years ago, has no children, and could not even find someone to accompany her to hospital.
Most of her HK$1,400 handicap subsidy goes to her doctor’s visits – including paying for someone to visit the hospital with her. Such a trip costs her HK$500 and six hours.
“If I could get an elderly allowance, it’d be poured into my medical needs anyway.
“I guess it doesn’t matter any more,” Leung said.
Jennifer Ngo and Jolie Ho, “Elderly allowance is welcome help for some, but others are not so lucky“, South China Morning Post, 30 March 2013.