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LCQ17: The Caring and Sharing Scheme
     Following is a question by the Hon Wu Chi-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Mr James Lau, in the Legislative Council today (April 25):
     In the 2018-2019 Budget delivered on February 28 this year, the Financial Secretary (FS) proposed a number of measures for sharing the fruits of success, including (i) reducing salaries tax and tax under personal assessment for the last financial year by 75% (subject to a ceiling of $30,000), (ii) waiving the rates for the four quarters of the current financial year (subject to a ceiling of $2,500 per quarter for each property), (iii) providing a one-off grant of $2,000 to each student in need, and (iv) providing an extra allowance to social security recipients, in an amount equivalent to two months of the standard rate Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payments, Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance or Disability Allowance. FS announced on the 23rd of last month a Caring and Sharing Scheme (the Scheme), under which an eligible person will receive a sum of $4,000 or the difference between $4,000 and the amount received under the aforesaid fruit-sharing measures. The Scheme will be implemented by the Working Family Allowance Office (the Office). Regarding the details of the Scheme, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that where the amount receivable by social security recipients from the aforesaid fruit-sharing measures is less than $4,000, they will automatically be given the shortfall under the Scheme, of the application procedure for other eligible persons under the Scheme; when the Scheme will disburse payments, as forecast by the authorities;
(2) given that those persons who own self-occupied properties but have been granted rates concession of less than $4,000 may receive the difference between $4,000 and the rates concession, how the Office will calculate the rates concession which have been received by persons who own only part of a property title;
(3) whether the amount receivable under the Scheme by students who have received the aforesaid grant of $2,000 and are eligible to apply for the Scheme is $4,000 or $2,000 (i.e. the difference between the two);
(4) given that as the owner and the occupier of a property may settle on their own which party is responsible for paying the rates, the beneficiaries of the rates concession may not necessarily be the owners, whether owners who have not benefitted from the rates concession may apply for receiving $4,000 under the Scheme; if not, of the justifications for that;
(5) given that the current Demand for Rates and/or Government Rent (Demand) does not contain information which can be used to verify the property owner's identity (e.g. identity card number), how the staff of the Office, upon finding that the owners' names stated on some Demands are the same as that of a certain applicant under the Scheme, will ascertain whether those owners and the applicant concerned are the same person; and
(6) whether it has assessed if, according to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486) and relevant legislation, the Inland Revenue Department and the Rating and Valuation Department may transfer the information in their respective possession relating to salaries tax and rates to the Office for vetting and approval of applications made under the Scheme; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the negative, of the authorities' solution in order to implement the Scheme?
     The Financial Secretary (FS) proposed in the 2018-19 Budget an array of measures to share the fruits of our economic success with the community. To extend the coverage of these measures to benefit more people, the FS announced on March 23 the introduction of the Caring and Sharing Scheme (the Scheme).
     The Government submitted an information note on the Scheme to the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council on April 20 and uploaded Frequently Asked Questions onto the website of the Working Family Allowance Office (WFAO) to help people understand the Scheme. My reply to the Hon Wu's question is as follows:
(1) WFAO is actively preparing for the implementation of the Scheme with a view to receiving applications starting from February 1, 2019 at the earliest. WFAO expects the first batch of applications to be approved in April 2019.
(2) Applications under the Scheme are individually-based. Therefore, joint owners of a property are required to apply separately. If they meet the eligibility criteria of the Scheme, the amount of payment granted to each of them will be $4,000, minus the rates concession declared and apportioned on a pro rata basis for the property which is used as their principal place of residence as well as salaries tax concessions (if any).
(3) The amount payable to students aged 18 or above who meet the other eligibility criteria of the Scheme and make their applications will not be affected by the one-off grant of $2,000 announced in the Budget to each student with financial needs.
(4) A person who owns a property which is not used as his principal place of residence will be regarded as a non-occupier owner and will not be eligible under the Scheme. As the FS said when announcing the Scheme, the Scheme was formulated having regard to, among others, the need to ensure proper use of public money and a targeted approach in sharing the annual surplus with the community.
(5) and (6) The WFAO will process the applications based on the information submitted by the applicants. Applicants will be required to declare that the properties they own are used as their principal places of residence, and indicate consent in the application forms authorising the WFAO to verify the particulars of the properties with the Land Registry and verify the amounts of rates concession for the properties for the year 2018-19 with the Rating and Valuation Department.
     In addition, applicants will be required to indicate consent in the application forms authorising the WFAO to request information on their salaries tax payments for the year of assessment 2017/18 from the Inland Revenue Department (if any).
Ends/Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Issued at HKT 12:30
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