LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1302/96-97
[These minutes have been seen
by the Administration]
Ref : CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 10 January 1997 at 10:45 a.m. in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :
    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming (Chairman)
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han
    Dr Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon MOK Ying-fan
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Members absent :
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee*
    Hon LEE Kai-ming*
Public officers attending :
    All items

    Mr HO Wing-him
    Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare

    Item II

    Mr CHOI Chi-wa
    Commissioner for Rehabilitation

    Health and Welfare Branch

    Mr Trevor KEEN
    Principal Assistant Secretary (Lands),
    Planning, Environment and Lands Branch
    Mr K M MO
    Acting Assistant Director/Control and
    Enforcement, Building Department
    Mr LAM Siu-tong
    Acting Chief Building Surveyor
    Building Department

    Item III

    Ms Lorna WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for
    Health & Welfare (Elderly Services)
    Mr Andrew LEUNG
    Director of Social Welfare
    Mrs Leslie HUNG
    Assistant Director of Social Welfare
    (Elderly and Medical Social Services)
    Mr CHENG Chok-man
    Chief Social Security Officer
    Social Welfare Department

    Items IV and V

    Ms Miranda CHIU
    Principal Assistant Secretary for
    Health & Welfare (Welfare) 1
    Assistant Director of Social Welfare
    (Social Security)
    Miss FUNG Yuk-chi, Lilian
    Senior Statistician
    Social Welfare Department
Attendance by invitation :
    The Hong Kong Council of Social Service

    Miss Stella HO
    Assistant Division Officer
    (Rehabilitation Division)
    Mr CHEUNG Kin-fai
    Rehabilitation Alliance Hong Kong
    Ms Karen MAK
    Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth
    Mr Louis LAI
    Hong Kong Blind Union
    Mr Fred LEUNG
    Hong Kong Society of the Blind
    Mr LAU Fook-yu
    Hong Kong Association of the Deaf
    Mr Clement KO
    Hong Kong Society for the Deaf
    Mr Joseph KWAN
    Environmental Advisory Service Rehabaid Centre
    The Hong Kong Rehabilitation Power
    Mr Leo LAM
    Mr Hansen LEE
Clerk in attendance :
    Ms Doris CHAN
    Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4
Staff in attendance :
    Miss Joanne MAK
    Senior Assistant Secretary (2)4

I. Items for discussion at the next meeting on 14 February 1997

1.Members agreed to discuss the following at the next meeting -

  1. Welfare services for new immigrants from China; and,

  2. Rehabilitation and support services for ex-mental patients

Closure of the Tsuen Wan Ecumenical Social Service Centre (the Centre)

2. With reference to the letter submitted by the Centre, the Chairman requested the Administration to see if the closure of the Centre would affect the provision of social service to the district. Members were of the view that it was not appropriate for the Panel to interfere in matters related to the closure of the Centre; but requested the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to assist the staff of the Centre to find employment in other social welfare institutions.Adm

Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 1997

3.In response to the Chairman’s enquiry, the Administration assured that it would submit the captioned Bill to the Legislative Council in January 1997. Adm

Senior Citizen Card Scheme

4. The Administration reported that it was identifying funds to employ a consultancy company to strengthen the promotion of the Scheme.Adm

II. Provision of barrier-free access for people with a disability

(LegCo Papers Nos. CB(2)885/96-97 (01), (02) and (03))

5. The Administration informed members that the new "Design Manual ; Barrier Free Access 1997" (the Manual) would be an updated version to replace the "Design Manual : Access for the Disabled 1984" in setting out what constituted reasonable access requirements in buildings. The new design manual would be backed up by legislation to enforce its obligatory design requirements and promulgated in three ways -

  1. to be circulated within the government departments as it would also apply to them and government projects;

  2. to be issued by the Buildings Authority to the private sector; and

  3. to be sent to all the organizations of people with a disability, the professionals organizations and to be made available to the general public.

The new design manual would apply to new buildings and building plans approved after the Manual was promulgated.

6. The Administration further explained that under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), people alleging that they had been denied reasonable access could lodge complaints with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) or institute legal proceedings in the court. The EOC might refer to the Manual as it saw fit in considering whether it was reasonable to require the provision of such access or facilities.

7.A member queried why it was not made a statutory requirement that all the existing buildings had to comply with the Manual. He considered that it was a delaying tactic of the Administration to refer these complaint cases to the EOC.

8. The Administration responded that it would in many cases be unreasonable and impossible to require an existing building to comply with the new standards unless by demolishing the building and rebuilding it which was impractical. The Administration reiterated that the Manual applied to new building plans approved after enforcement of the Manual; and applied, wherever possible, to existing buildings undergoing substantial renovation.

9. A member queried the definition of "substantial" renovation. In reply, the Administration said that it referred to cases that required the submission of building plan to the Buildings Authority, which would take the opportunity to ask the owner to comply with the Manual to a reasonable extent.

10. The Administration reported that the Manual would be finalised in March 1997 and its obligatory requirements would be made subsidiary legislation and submitted to the Legislative Council for scrutiny. The other requirements in the Manual were only of advisory nature explaining to the buildings owners what the Administration considered to constitute reasonable access. The Administration also clarified that the Manual only applied to building works and the facilities within a building premise.

11. A member questioned if the Government would take the lead to upgrade all the government buildings to comply with the new standards. The Administration answered that the majority of government buildings, including all the new ones, should be reasonably up to standards since the Government was also subject to the provisions of the DDO. The member pointed out that, as far as he knew, 500-plus buildings (mainly the shopping malls) in the private sector were being required to be renovated in order to meet the safety standards of the Fire Service Department. He asked if the Administration would take this opportunity to request the relevant building owners to upgrade their buildings to comply with the standards of the Manual. The Administration answered that the Buildings Authority did not have the power to force the owners to do so but the Manual would provide detailed information as to what owners should do to protect themselves from charges or complaints of discrimination from a person with a disability.

12. A member asked if the Administration would make special arrangement to facilitate parking by people with a disability. A representative of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) informed members that the Transport Department was exploring to issue permits to authorize taxi-drivers or vehicle owners driving people with a disability to park at the restricted parking areas to facilitate their getting on/off the vehicles.

13. At the suggestion of members, the Administration agreed to review the Manual on an ad hoc basis and involve representatives of the Joint Council for the Physically and Mentally Disabled in the process. The Administration further reported that, in consultation with the Architectural Services Department (ASD), it had considered it necessary to give the building owners a lead time of about six months. Thus it had decided that building plans approved after 1 October 1997 would be required to comply with the new standards.Adm

14. Representatives of the HKCSS pointed out that the "Design Manual : Access for the Disabled 1984" was inadequate in many ways to cater for the needs of people with a disability. One of the inadequacies of the old Manual was that it had only taken into account the needs of those with locomotory disabilities but neglected those with sensory disabilities. They quoted the example of public toilets which, due to the lack of appropriate signs for distinguishing male or female toilets, always posed a problem for the blind. As many of the buildings in Hong Kong had been built in accordance with standards of the old Manual, the representatives urged the Administration to take remedial action to upgrade those buildings such as the Convention Centre which would be the venue of the International Conference on Rehabilitation 1998.

15. The representatives opined that the Administration and public funded organizations should take the lead to upgrade their buildings to serve as an example for the private sector to follow; and strongly requested that all public buildings, particularly the reception area and the shroff, should be accessible by people with special needs, such as those with a disability, the elderly and mothers with prams or strollers, within a period of three years. If upgrading of the existing buildings was not possible, the Administration should consider relocation of the offices. To accelerate the process of making improvements, the representatives proposed that it should be made a statutory requirement to ensure full compliance with the Manual by all buildings. They regretted to note that, in the recent release of the Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Escape in Case of Fire, the Administration had not taken into consideration the needs of people with a disability. They urged the Administration to take remedial action.

16. The chairman of the Rehabilitation Power (Rehab Power) pointed out that as far as he knew, "substantial alteration or renovation" referred to a large scale of renovation such as the case where a mall was converted into a restaurant. So he was worried that it would take an indefinitely long period of time to wait for such a chance to come up for upgrading the existing buildings. Therefore, he proposed that existing buildings should be required to comply with the new design manual after a certain grace period was given to the owners to provide the necessary facilities. Should the Administration insist that this was impractical, he proposed that, at least, the Director of the ASD should be authorized to advise the owners of the existing buildings to make the necessary modifications or alternations; and to report details of the progress made and the response received after a period of three years. He also proposed that the Director of the ASD should be authorized to warn the building owner when he found that the obligatory design requirements of a building had been modified or suspended for use after the occupation permit was issued to the building. He believed that this would be more effective than simply referring complaints to the EOC.

17. The Administration responded that means of escape in a fire for people with a disability was extremely difficult and it had been a concern to the Administration. The Administration was conducting an exercise to review the lessons learnt from the Garly Building incident and the needs of people with a disability would be taken into consideration in the exercise. The Administration further reported that the new design manual had specified requirements on the provision of signs to facilitate people with sensory disabilities in finding directions and identifying the position of facilities available for their use.

18. The Administration clarified that for cases where some of the facilities under the obligatory design requirements had been demolished or altered after occupation permits were issued, such cases would be taken as contravention of the Ordinance and legal proceedings would be instituted. There were over 9,600 cases of breaching the Buildings Ordinance in the past year and priority in handling these cases was necessary.

19. Members were still dissatisfied that no action would be taken in respect of existing buildings and urged the Administration to devise a schedule for remedial actions, particularly in respect of public housing estates and road facilities.

20. In response, the Administration reiterated that the Manual would only apply to new buildings because it would be impossible to modify all existing buildings. Where it was reasonable to do so, the Administration would encourage owners to make necessary improvements to the buildings. It further explained that if all the requirements set out in the Manual were put into legislation, then it would be quite troublesome whenever amendments had to be made to it. The Administration also explained that although some of the design requirements were only of "advisory" nature, they were to an extent also backed up by legislation in that if the owner failed to comply, he might be subject to prosecution under the DDO.

21. As for the required improvements for public housing estates and roads, the Administration undertook to convey members’ views to the Director of Housing and Director of Highways for their action. The Administration reported that the Highways Department had a programme to build the drop kerbs into the roads as part of their routine maintenance work. However, the Chairman pointed out that these drop kerbs were only built when maintenance work was required for a road and there was not a definite schedule for such construction work.Adm

22. The deputation informed members that the Manual had not incorporated all their suggestions made and requested members to look into the case and make amendments when the subsidiary legislation in respect of the obligatory items of the Manual was submitted to the Legislative Council. The Chairman agreed to take note of the request but pointed out that there was a limit of 28 days for scrutiny of subsidiary legislation by the Legislative Council.Chairman & members

23. A member queried why the Administration had to wait for complaints to the EOC before it would make any improvements to government facilities since much room for improvement of its facilities had already been identified. He quoted the example of the public toilets, especially those in the countryside, which in most cases were either locked up or not usable; and the example of poles being erected at the entrance of parks to prevent hawking inside which also obstructed people with ambulatory disability.

24. The Administration agreed to relate the comments on the public toilets to the Urban Council (UC) and the Regional Council (RC) for their investigation. It suggested that those who were also members of the UC and RC might also take this matter up at their UC and RC meetings.Adm

25. The Commissioner for Rehabilitation pointed out that if it was made a statutory requirement for owners of existing buildings to comply with the new standards, some private owners of small flats might not be able to afford the necessary expenses. He also reminded that it would incur extra cost for relocation of some government departments to new buildings; and for increase in the ASD staff to tighten its examination of the buildings facilities. In response, members said that if the Administration put up such proposals for the benefit of people with a disability, they would fully support such bids for additional funds.

26. A member noted that existing buildings needed some minor renovation from time to time. If the owners took the opportunity to build some facilities such as handrails or ramps in the buildings, it would not entail much extra cost. He suggested that the Administration should contact Owners’ Corporation to brief them on the requirements of the Manual. While the Administration agreed to do so, it supplemented that based on an analysis undertaken internally by the Housing Department, the cost of the items in the Manual could cost very little to new projects but could cost a lot if they were fitted into existing buildings.Adm

27. The Administration explained that as it had targetted to submit the subsidiary legislation in respect of the obligatory items of the Manual to the Legislative Council by March 1997, it requested that interested parties should pass their comments on the Manual to the ASD as early as possible to ensure submission of the Manual on time.members

III.Support network and provision of emergency alarm bells for vulnerable elderly

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2)885/96-97 (04))

Provision of emergency alarm bells

28. The Chairman referred to a fire on 30 December 1996 causing the death of an elderly person living at Sau Mau Ping and queried if promotion of the Emergency Alarm System (EAS) should be stepped up as there were only 1000-plus approved applications for the service of the EAS out of the 56,000 singleton elderly receiving the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). He also criticised that the Housing Department (HD), which was responsible for assisting the non-CSSA elderly living alone in the public housing estates in obtaining the service of the EAS, had only relied on the newsletter circulated in the housing estates to publicise the EAS instead of contacting the elderly and explaining to them the service. The Chairman pointed out that the newsletter was a very ineffective means of publicity as most of the elderly were unable to read. He also informed the meeting that the HD had planned to scrap the post of Housing Estates Liaison Officer as it saw that the service could be substituted by the social networking scheme of the SWD. He considered that the move was unacceptable and requested the Administration to look into the matter. A member also criticised a rule of the HD which required elderly people who wanted to apply for EAS to collect the application forms in person; and that the rule had been rigidly enforced by the HD staff. The member criticised that the HD failed to take into account that some elderly people might have problems in movement and needed someone to collect the forms for them. Other than this, the member had also found that many HD staff including the counter staff were ignorant of the EAS service. The Administration undertook to look into the matters.Adm

29. The Administration agreed that the EAS was a relatively new service to elderly people in Hong Kong. Therefore, simple pamphlets would be issued for distribution to elderly people during home visits conducted by volunteers to provide information on the alarm bells. The Administration believed that the number of applications for the service of EAS would increase significantly as more contacts were made with the elderly and with publicity efforts stepped up.

30. A member queried the rationale behind the age criteria imposed on applicants for the service of the EAS. The Administration explained that it did recognise the need of the CSSA singleton elderly aged 60 and above for emergency contacts with people for assistance. Thus, over the past year, the SWD had contacted all these singleton elderly people and, wherever it was needed, installed a telephone at each of their homes for their use. In fact, 95% of the 56,000 CSSA singleton elderly had access to a telephone except for those who had declined the service. The Administration explained that due to limited resources, it had to set priority in the provision of EAS to the elderly people as the size of their population was considerably large. In response to members’ enquiry, the Administration reported that the EAS suppliers were responsible for installation of the device for the elderly people.

31. A member opined that provision of the EAS service was a useful and relatively more economical means to help the elderly people. He therefore supported to lower the age limit for the EAS service to 60.

32. The Chairman referred to the recent cases where some elderly people had been deceived of money for buying EAS products. He criticised that the EAS service should not be on a reimbursement basis and suggested that SWD should directly purchase the products from the EAS suppliers. The Administration agreed to review and streamline the procedures where appropriate.Adm

33. The Administration informed members that non-CSSA recipients living in private premises with need of EAS service but could not afford of it could approach the SWD for assistance. However, members were dissatisfied with the Administration’s policy on non-CSSA recipients and pointed out that it had been already shown in various survey reports that many non-CSSA recipients were living in abject poverty. Members requested the Administration to consider extending the EAS service to non-CSSA recipients living in the private premises.Adm

Support network for vulnerable elderly

34. A member asked if the Administration had considered to provide quilts instead of wool blankets. The Administration answered that it had considered the option but dropped it in view of the bulky size of the quilts which would cause much difficulty to the homeless in its storage and care. Although the wool blanket was thinner, the Administration would provide more than one to the homeless if he so requested.

35. A member was concerned about the training provided for the volunteers in implementing the networking system and remarked that training was particularly important in this case as the volunteers would need to establish close relationship with the elderly, which might be a new thing to many of them. He further said that many community centres lacked the manpower to contact and explain to the elderly details of the project. He further said that many multi-service centres for the elderly lacked the social work manpower to contact and explain to the elderly details of the project. He said that for some centres, even the clerks were mobilised to conduct home visits block by block. He also requested the Administration to provide information on the training provided to the volunteers and measures to be taken to retain the volunteers recruited.

36. The Administration reported that they had drawn up operational guidelines for the participating organisations, volunteers and elderly persons. In the guidelines for organisations, a training outline for volunteers was included, and if required, the organisations could contact the Social Welfare Department for assistance in organising training activities. The Administration explained that the objective of the scheme was not only to rely on paid staff to identify the elderly people requiring networking service but to involve participation of members of the community in identifying and referring any elderly person whom they knew to be in need of networking service to the District Social Welfare Office of the respective district and in serving as volunteers. The Administration further reported that appeal letters had been sent to all subvented non-governmental organisations, prominent service clubs (such as Rotary International) and large companies with corporate volunteer teams to join the project.

37. At members’ suggestion, the Administration agreed to review and report on progress of implementing the networking system three months later. Adm

IV. Supplementary provision for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2)885/96-97 (05))

38. A member enquired if an increase in the number of ‘unemployed’ cases was the major reason for the acquisition of supplementary provision for CSSA. The Administration tabled a note setting out the number of cases by category and pointed out that generally speaking, the increase in caseload was mainly due to the improvements made to the Scheme following the completion of the review in April 1996. The Administration explained that the asset limit for example was put up by so much that many more people had become eligible for CSSA. The Administration noted that although there might not be a direct correlation, the rate of unemployment in Hong Kong would certainly have an impact on the number of new CSSA cases. The Administration said that another reason for the increase was the enhanced effort of various departments to publicise CSSA. For example, the Labour Department informed all those who registered as unemployed under the Scheme, and new immigrants were also specifically informed about the Scheme on arrival in Hong Kong.

39. In view of the substantial increase in caseload due to unemployment, a member asked what measures the Administration would take to help the unemployed. In response, the Administration said that the issue of unemployment was a complex issue requiring in-depth study by various government agencies. The Chairman suggested that special grants, such as subsidising them on buying newspapers, travelling and communication expenses, eating out and dressing up for interviews, should be provided to the unemployed to help them find employment. A member also suggested strengthening co-operation between the SWD and the Re-training Council as the Administration was currently reviewing the scheme on re-training service. After some discussion, the Chairman concluded that the matter should be more thoroughly discussed and proposed to have it included for the next meeting. The Administration reminded the meeting that the CSSA, being a non-contributory scheme, aimed primarily to meet the basic needs of financially vulnerable people. Additional special grants might deviate from the objective of the Scheme, the implications of which had to be thoroughly examined.Clerk

40. A member asked if the increase in caseload would deter the Administration from considering the earlier suggestion from members to raise the asset limit for CSSA to $151,000. In response, the Administration said that members’ views regarding asset limits were being examined.Adm

41.Members also noted the increase in the number of cases under the category of "single parent" and opined that the Administration should also look into the issue.Adm

42. The Chairman requested a breakdown of the amount requested by contributing factor for consideration by the Finance Committee.Adm

V. Supplementary provision for the Social Security Allowance Scheme

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2)885/96-97 (06))

43. Members considered the paper to be in order and had no comments.

VI. Any other business

44. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 1:00 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
24 Februray 1997

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Last Updated on 22 August 1998