(Submission by the Social Security Assistants�Branch
of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants�Association)
(Letterhead of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants�Association)
Shortage of Social Security Assistants
and the Effect on the Quality of Services
At the meeting of the Panel on Welfare Services on 14 January 1998, Members requested us to provide more relevant information which is set out in the following paragraphs.
2. Special Investigation Team
- According to the Manual of Procedures on Social Security, the main duties of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) are:
- to assist the Social Security Field Units (SSFUs) to conduct in-depth investigation into suspicious fraud cases and to collect excessive sums paid to recipients in overpayment cases; and
- to conduct random checks on 10% of cases in which common agents/appointees are appointed to act for recipients residing in residential care institutions.
- The SIT, which was set up over ten years ago but was later disbanded, resumed operation in 1996 with an establishment of one Social Security Officer (SSO) and seven Senior Social Security Assistants. They are mainly responsible for carrying out random checks on cases of old age allowance, disability allowance and fee assistance under the Child Care Centre Fee Assistance Scheme. As for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) cases, their duties are confined to ascertaining whether the clients have actually received the CSSA payments in full. (Note: there are some cases in which autopay through bank accounts cannot be arranged and the payments must be made directly to the clients or be made through the appointees.) Up till now, the SIT has not been authorized to take up the duty of conducting investigation into suspicious CSSA fraud cases.
- According to a report prepared by the Social Welfare Department (SWD), from October 1996 to September 1997, the SIT made random checks on 5 760 cases. As a result, 270 overpayment cases (4.7% of the total number of cases) were found and the amount of over-payment involved was $2.02 million.
- As regards the additional SIT to be set up in the next financial year, we are not being informed of its establishment. Neither are we given to understand whether the additional team will focus on suspicious CSSA fraud cases.
- We opine that while the SIT can play a supportive role, it can play no part in preventing fraud cases. Adequate front-line staff must be provided if the root of the problem is to be addressed.
3. Types of Fraud Cases
- forged rental receipts: giving false information on the rental and the address in order to obtain allowances for rent, house removal costs and rental deposit, etc.
- forged documents and receipts: forged salary slips and forged receipts showing purchase of spectacles or diapers, etc.;
- non-disclosure of information relating to their assets; and
- non-disclosure of information relating to their income.
4. Analysis: Overpayment Cases
Among the various work easement measures introduced by the SWD to address the problem of insufficient manpower, one of which seeks to extend payment to CSSA elderly cases automatically without counter-checking the current situation of the elderly recipients. Since this measure has been put in place repeatedly for a number of times, some cases might have been left unchecked for as long as four years.
The following scenarios might result in overpayment of CSSA:
- Financial assistance offered by the friends and relatives of the recipients during the period;
- The SWD not being informed while the clients are being hospitalized;
- The clients move out of the homes for the aged in which they have been residing;
- Failure to cease payments immediately after the death of the recipients; and
- Over-payment of rent as a result of house removal.
5. Analysis: Suspicious Cases
- For CSSA cases in the category of the unemployed, cases for cessation of CSSA payment as a result of recipients securing jobs are few. Many CSSA recipients in this category, claiming that they have not been successful in finding jobs, have been living on CSSA for a number of years, some even for as long as over 10 years.
- For those whose bank savings exceed the asset limit for application for CSSA, some clients explain that the bank savings under their names belong to their friends or relatives, or that the bank savings are for repayment of debts.
- The children of quite a number of clients claim that they cannot support their parents, with such pretexts as having to repay the mortgage loan for their flats and cars, having to hire Filipino maids or to pay for social activities.
6. Effect of Manpower Shortage on the Services
- As a result of the introduction of work easement measures, the staff have not been able to contact the CSSA elderly recipients for a number of years. Their financial or welfare needs may have been neglected.
- Work easement measures and staff shortage have led to increasing number of fraud cases and abuses of public funds.
- The work of Senior Social Security Assistants is indispensable in the process from investigating to granting of CSSA payments. As at 30 November 1997, there is a shortage of 101 posts in the grade, corresponding to 27.75% of the total establishment. Such being the case, we are given only two choices: either to focus on quality and let backlog cases keep accumulating, or to focus on the output figures and let the quality of services deteriorate.
- The introduction of work easement measures is not a solution to the manpower shortage problem.
- Between April 1998 and March 1999, the SSFUs will be provided with only tens of additional posts. Such rate of increase can hardly meet the staff shortfall of 154 as at 30 November 1997, not to mention the additional staffing requirements arising from the increase in caseload up to March 1999.
- The ageing population, the downturn of economy and the rising number of new arrivals have led to a sharp increase in the number of applications. When making manpower projections, the Government should take into account the projected increase of caseload and the additional staffing requirements arising therefrom, in order to tie in with the actual development of society. In doing so, the "safety net" (social security) can be provided in a much better and more equitable manner.
Social Security Assistants Branch
Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants Association
10 February 1998