The Hong Kong Housing Authority's Subsidised Housing Committee yesterday approved a series of new measures to strengthen the fight against abuse of public housing, including requiring public housing tenants to declare every two years that they have been continuously living in their flats after moving into public housing; tenants are required to authorise the Authority to check tenants' information with relevant government departments and public/private organisations to ascertain whether the tenants have purchased their own flats; and tenants who refuse to declare or fail to do so within a specified period may have their tenancies terminated. The tenancy of a tenant who refuses to declare or fails to declare within a specified period may be terminated. The measures will be implemented in phases from 1 October this year.
The DAB supports the tightening of the mechanism by the Housing Authority, stressing that public housing resources are precious and property owners should vacate their flats for those in greater need. It is believed that the new mechanism can strengthen the deterrent effect and prevent the abuse of public housing resources.
Under the old "well-off tenants policy", PRH tenants were required to declare their income and assets and whether they owned any private residential properties in Hong Kong every two years after they had lived in PRH for 10 years. To optimise this mechanism, the Housing Authority will require PRH tenants to declare their income and assets to the Housing Department every two years from the time they move into PRH, and if they refuse, their tenancy will be terminated.
At the same time, PRH tenants and all members will be required to indicate in the declaration form that they agree to make a declaration to the Housing Authority within one month of acquiring a residential property in Hong Kong (within one month of entering into any agreement (including provisional agreement)). All members of the household listed on the declaration form who are aged 18 or above must sign to indicate that they are aware of, agree to and comply with the terms and conditions set out in the declaration form.
The tenant is also required to authorise the Authority to check the tenant's information with relevant government departments and public/private organisations, which may lead to criminal prosecution if false information is verified. Requiring PRH tenants to sign the declaration and declaration will enable them to be more clearly aware of the requirements and responsibilities of moving into PRH, which will help further safeguard the rational allocation of PRH resources.
Since the implementation of the revised Well-off Tenants Policy in October 2017, the Housing Department has issued Fixed-term Temporary Occupation Permits to about 820 well-off tenants who need to move out of their PRH flats. The spokesman said that shortening the period of Temporary Resident Permit to a maximum of four months would reduce the likelihood of well-off tenants using the temporary residence period to transfer their assets to avoid surrendering their PRH flats, and would better meet the community's expectations.
After the four-month period has expired, the tenants concerned must move out and their eligibility will not be re-assessed by the Housing Department. If there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. a sudden drop in income), the person concerned can appeal to the Appeal Board (Housing) against the termination of his tenancy by the Housing Authority under the existing mechanism.
The above new policy will be implemented in phases from 1 October this year. As in the past, tenants who have been living in PRH for 10 years are still required to make a declaration to the Housing Department every two years in April or October in accordance with the existing policy.
The Secretary for Housing, Mr Ho Wing-yin, who is also the Chairman of the Housing Authority, said public housing is a valuable resource for the community and the Authority has been adopting a multi-pronged and risk-based approach to combat public housing abuse on all fronts through preventive surveillance, investigative actions, publicity and education. After carefully considering different views, members of the sub-committee have promptly optimized the relevant arrangements to further ensure that public housing resources are allocated to those most in need, in response to the aspirations of the community.
The DAB supports the tightening of the mechanism by the Housing Authority. The DAB's spokesman on housing matters, Legislative Councillor Chan Hok-fung, believes that the new practice will not cause too much nuisance to the residents, but is concerned about whether the Housing Authority has sufficient manpower to verify the relevant information. In the long run, the pace of e-government should be accelerated so that information can be exchanged between departments and administrative procedures can be reduced to minimise nuisance to the public.
The Committee also approved yesterday the implementation of enhanced measures under the Marking Scheme for Estate Management Enforcement in Public Housing Estates (the Marking Scheme) to increase the number of penalty points for nine misdeeds relating to environmental hygiene, public safety and serious breach of tenancy, and to extend the scope of two misdeeds relating to environmental hygiene and/or serious breach of tenancy. The measures will be implemented in the fourth quarter of this year.