LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Work of Special Investigation Teams (SITs)
This paper reports on the progress of work by the two Special Investigation Teams (SITs) of the Social Welfare Department (SWD).
2. The SIT was established in July 1977 to undertake investigations of suspected welfare fraud and to conduct periodic random check of social security cases. The SIT was temporarily disbanded in April 1994 to allow the team members to work on other more urgent SWD projects. In 1995, after reviewing the manning level of SWD, the Management Service Agency recommended to resume the operations of the SIT. The SIT was subsequently resurrected in September 1996.
3. When the SIT was reinstated in 1996, there were seven investigating officers. Since April 1999, more resources have been allocated to the SIT. There are currently two SITs, with 28 investigating officers. These officers are all experienced Senior Social Security Assistants and they have at least three years' experience working in the Social Security Field Units (SSFUs).
Responsibilities and Results
4. SWD has a three-tiered investigation system on social security. The staff of the SSFUs perform the basic assessment, visits to applicants' homes and verification of information provided by applicants. The SITs will then perform random checks on all social security cases. Based on their experience in fraud detection, they will select target categories of cases for more intensive checking. They will also carry out in-depth investigations on suspected fraud cases reported through the hot lines, referred by SSFUs or identified during the random checks.
5. One of the SIT conducts random checks on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Social Security Allowance (SSA) and Fee Assistance (FA) cases by paying home visits to investigate cases and taking up follow-up action if any fraud or malpractice is detected. The number of investigating officers has been increased from 7 to 17 since April 1999.
6. The number of random checks conducted by the team is as follows:
|Targeted CSSA cases #||6 800||9 000
|Other financial assistance cases *||4 860||4 590
|Total:||11 660||13 590
# Low earning, unemployed and single parent cases
* Including FA, Old Age Allowance and Disability Allowance cases
7. As a result of the random checks performed, 570 overpaid cases were detected in 1998/99 involving a total overpayment of $3 million. Ten suspected fraud cases were detected and referred to the other SIT for in-depth investigation.
8. The other SIT is responsible for conducting in-depth investigation on suspected fraud cases, assisting SSFUs to recover outstanding overpayments and manning a special hotline for reporting fraud and abuse of social security benefits.
9. The number of investigating officers in this team has been increased from 7 to 11 since April 1999. In 1998/99, this SIT carried out in-depth investigation on 345 suspected fraud cases. It is expected to handle 600 suspected fraud cases in 1999/2000. During the first four months of this year, the team has referred 43 social security fraud cases to the police for prosecution. This is already the total number of cases referred to the police during the 12 preceding months.
10. Relevant statistics are summarized as follows:
|1998/1999||1999/2000(up to 31.7.99)
|(a) No of suspected fraud cases reported through the hotline (established in August 1998): ||3 608||1 903
|Out of (a), no. of cases with sufficient information that can be followed up:||974||396
|(b) No. of fraud cases vetted by SWD's Internal Committee on Fraud Cases@:||88||71
|(c) No. of fraud cases referred to the police for prosecution:||43||43
|(d) No. of cases convicted: ||15#||N/A*
@ A Committee set up to examine individual fraud cases and to decide whether they should be referred to the police for prosecution
# Maximum penalty: 12 months imprisonment
* Pending investigation by the police
11. Analyses of the fraud cases detected by the SIT reveal that the fraudulent practices usually take the following forms -
- Some people who are gainfully employed may conceal their income and apply for CSSA under the unemployment category;
- Some CSSA recipients may produce fake rental receipts with a view to collecting higher rental reimbursement from the SWD;
- Elderly people who possess considerable assets may conceal their assets and apply for CSSA under the elderly category;
- Married people may pretend that they are separated from their spouses and cannot go to work because they have to take care of children. They may apply for CSSA under the single parent category while continue to live with and receive financial support from their spouses.
Some examples of fraud cases detected are at Annex
12. In addition to reinforcing its investigation before authorisation of payment to applicants and strengthening the SITs, SWD has also set up a Steering Committee Against Fraud headed by one of its Deputy Directors to formulate strategies to combat fraud. SWD will continue its effort in strengthening control to safeguard public expenditure against fraud and abuse.
Health and Welfare Bureau
Examples of Fraud Case Detected
A single parent started to receive CSSA in 1981 as an unemployed case. His son came to Hong Kong in 1996 and his case was reclassified as a single parent case with increased payment level. His son returned to China in early 1997 but the single parent did not report it to Social Welfare Department. His son returned to Hong Kong occasionally when his presence was required to apply for special grants, e.g. dental expenses or school related expenses. The case was referred to the Police for prosecution and the single parent was sentenced to imprisonment.
A man applied for CSSA in November 1996, claiming that he was unemployed. The case was approved and payment was granted. In mid 1997, it was discovered that he was in fact gainfully employed. The case was subsequently referred to the Police for prosecution. The man was sentenced to perform community services.
An unemployed recipient started to receive CSSA standard payments and special grant for rent since 1996. He moved out from his reported address in 1997 and became a street sleeper. However, he continued to produce fake rental receipts and collected special grant for rent. The case was referred to the Police for prosecution and the recipient was sentenced to imprisonment.