LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1425/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1, CB2/PL/WS/1
LegCo Panel on Housing and LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Minutes of joint meeting held on Monday, 7 April 1997, at 10:30 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members present :
Members absent :
* Also members of LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Public officers attending :
- Housing Branch
- Mr Parrish NG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing
- Housing Department
- Mr LAU Kai-hung
- Assistant Director (Regional Management 1)
- Social Welfare Department
- Mrs Nancy TSE
- Assistant Director (Family and Child Welfare)
- Miss Theresa WONG
- Chief Social Work Officer (Family and Child Welfare)
Clerk in attendance :
- Mrs Vivian KAM
- Assistant Secretary General 1 (Acting)
Staff in attendance :
- Miss Becky YU
- Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3
I Election of Chairman
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming was elected Chairman of the joint meeting. He advised that the meeting was a follow-up to the meeting of the Housing Panel on 3 March 1997 at which the subject of "public housing tenancies for divorcees" was discussed.
II Public housing tenancies for divorcees
(LegCo Papers No. CB(1) 978 and 1196/96-97)
2. Hon Albert CHAN Wai-ip and Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin made reference to the relatively low number of cases handled by the Housing Department (HD) and the Social Welfare Department (SWD) for clients undergoing divorce proceedings, and to their own experience with such cases , and expressed concern on whether frontline staff in particular those of the HD were aware of rehousing options for such clients, if the staff were providing appropriate advice and necessary assistance, and whether there was sufficient co-ordination between the two departments.
3. In response, the Assistant Director (Family and Child Welfare) (AD/FCW) of SWD explained that SWD Family Services Centres handled a large number of divorce cases and housing assistance was only one option of help provided by the social workers. Apart from written guidelines, Regional Social Work Officers had conducted training for frontline staff and they were very clear about options available to the clients. The Assistant Director (Regional Management 1) (AD/RM1) of HD also said that HD had provided a lot of information to its frontline staff on the subject. Training was provided to HD staff in this respect and such services were publicized through various channels such as Estate Newsletters, Management Advisory Committees and Mutual Aid Committees. There was constant communication between the two departments and SWD had referred clients eligible for Conditional Tenancy (CT) to HD.
Caseload and time frame
4. On the number of successful CT cases in the past three years, AD(FCW) advised that there were 269 such cases in 1993-94, 212 in 1994-95 and 237 in 1995-96. This was inclusive of applicants who had or did not have tenancy in public rental housing (PRH) estates. She confirmed in response to Hon LEE Wing-tat that the majority of such cases were directly known to SWD Family Services Centres. The percentage of cases not recommended by SWD to HD was about 13% in 1995-96 and these were due to such factors as income in excess of the limit, unclear marital status, insufficient information, or lack of medical or social grounds. In reply to Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee, AD(FCW) affirmed that income was only one of the considerations and SWD would request waiver from HD for exceptional cases.
5. As regards temporary housing in the New Territories for persons who had not been granted custody of children, AD(RM1) advised that 249 cases were approved in 1996, the majority of which were for male applicants. Arrangements for temporary housing took one month on average while in general a flat could be recovered from a tenant without custodial right of children within six months. In reply to a member on cases which were still pending after a lapse of nine months, AD(RM1) explained that these were exceptional cases which might be affected by the choice of accomodation in a particular district.
6. On the time taken by SWD in processing applications for CT, the Chief Social Work Officer advised that there were internal guidelines for recommendations to be made to HD within three weeks on receipt of all the necessary relevant documents from the clients. AD(FCW) added that circumstances would differ for individual cases. Female clients were particularly vulnerable, and emotionally unstable and as such some would require more time to determine their needs. SWD staff would be objective in analysing the situations for their clients.
7. Hon CHAN Yuen-han sought clarification on the quota for compassionate housing for such clients, and its effect on the assistance provided by HD and SWD. AD(FCW) acknowledged that there was an annual quota of 2,000 for compassionate housing and 100 for CT. She stressed that the quota was for reference only and that the actual number of successful cases had exceeded the quota as illustrated in paragraph 4 above; neither had the quota created any pressure on SWD staff. On the purpose of the quota system, AD(RM1) explained that this was on account of the need to plan for the allocation of public housing for the various purposes such as clearance, redevelopment, squatters, waiting list, etc. He also emphasized that meritorious cases would not be rejected.
Tenants without children
8. Hon Frederic FUNG Kin-kee disagreed with the policy that CT would not be granted to a tenant without children and considered that it should be made available to such tenants since CT was a temporary arrangement and would only be provided during the period of divorce proceedings; Hon Mrs Selina CHOW also suggested that CT should be granted for exceptional cases such as that of battered wives. She also suggested that HD and SWD should issue jointly publicity pamphlets publicizing the services and the target time frame for handling such cases. AD(RM1) said in response that housing resources were scarce and careful allocation was called for to guard against abuse. Clients without custodial right of children would not be made homeless; they could apply either for temporary housing in the New Territories or for PRH through the Single Persons Waiting List and be accorded priority. He reiterated that custodial right of children was a pre-requisite for CT. Where both parties had such rights, separate flats would normally be provided. Dr Hon LAW Chi-kwong remarked that the question of abuse should not come into the picture since either party might be eligible for public housing irrespective of their marital status. Hon CHAN Kam-lam on the other hand expressed concern on the possibility that non-PRH tenants might not be aware of their rights to apply for temporary housing while undergoing divorce proceedings.
Ownership of assets
9. For cases involving joint-ownership of assets, AD(RM1) advised that the clients would continue to be provided with PRH on a temporary basis until the ownership problem had been resolved. AD(FCW) supplemented that urgent cases would still be recommended to HD despite possession of assets. She also confirmed in response to a member that SWD would assist the clients who were exposed to the risk of being abused by their separated spouse to apply for an Injunction Order through the Legal Aid Department if so requested by a client.
|10. Members made the following observations and recommendations and the Chairman requested the Administration to provide a written response on the actions taken within two months:||Admin|
- judging from the few number of successful CT cases and from the experience of members, many HD staff were still unaware of the choices of accomodation available to such clients and were not providing positive advice. HD should enhance staffs knowledge by improving training and issuing guidelines to its frontline staff. In addition, files should be open on each case for close monitoring by the management; and
- in view of the increasing trend for divorce, there was a need to increase publicity. Pamphlets publicizing the services and choices available should be published by the two departments for distribution at SWD and HD offices as well as offices of the Legal Aid Department where many such clients would approach. Where necessary, the applicants should be advised on the progress of their applications.
III Any other business
11. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 11:30 am.
Legislative Council Secretariat
29 April 1997
Last Updated on 22 August 1998