Secretary for Development's remarks on Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners (English translation)

Following is the translation of the opening remarks by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, when speaking to the media about the Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners today (March 3):

In the 2008-09 Budget Speech last week, the Financial Secretary announced a new caring measure for the elderly. He proposed to earmark $1 billion to implement a subsidy scheme to assist the elderly in need to carry out maintenance works for their self-occupied properties.

I am glad to be in Kwai Chung district today and visited a couple of elderly building owner. As their building will soon carry out maintenance works, they are worried about their financial difficulties. I also met with a group of elderly building owners who are very concerned about their building maintenance work.

In fact when I visited Kwai Ching District in November last year, the District Officer also arranged me to meet some elderly building owners. I understand that many elders in Hong Kong had worked very hard for their whole life and purchased their premises. They do not have stable income after retirement. If their buildings are required to carry out large scale maintenance work or to demolish unauthorised building works, they will face substantial financial burdens. These elderly owners are actually very concerned about the maintenance and safety of their buildings, and if they could afford, they are willing to shoulder the cost of the maintenance works.

At present, the Buildings Department (BD), the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) have their respective schemes to assist the elderly, but these schemes have different restrictions. For example, the BD provides a loan scheme to offer low-interest or even interest-free loans for the elderly, and the repayment period will range from 36 to 72 months. But this is still a heavy financial burden to the elderly.

This time, we will establish a $1 billion subsidy scheme to offer a grant to the elderly for carrying out building maintenance. All elderly persons aged 60 or over living in self-occupied properties are eligible to apply for the scheme to carry out building maintenance works. The coverage of the Scheme is very extensive, ranging from a building¡¦s public areas, building structure, outer walls, drainage repair and fire services installations. In the light of our past experience, the grant of $40,000 under the Scheme is sufficient to cover the average expenses incurred by such works. Our figures show that a large-scale maintenance work will cost an average of $30,000 per owner. We therefore set a limit of $40,000 for the grant scheme. If the cost for a maintenance project is less than $40,000, the elderly could apply for the remaining grant within 5 years. They could apply for a total of $40,000 for their self-occupied properties.

The Scheme will, on the one hand, assist the elderly to carry out building maintenance works and, on the other hand, it will also benefit the whole community, as people are very concerned about building and fire safety. If the elderly could carry out proper maintenance works to their buildings, the whole society will also benefit. The scheme will also help to resolve the hygiene problem, as we all hope that buildings are properly maintained. We estimated that about 30,000 elders will benefit from the $1 billion grant. The scheme will also help us to implement the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme and the mandatory Window Inspection Scheme, because many owner will be required to carry out building maintenance works after the two schemes are launched.

The Scheme aims at helping those elderly owners in need, and therefore not all elderly owners are eligible. We will put in place a relaxed and simple means test for elderly owners. Eligible applicants only have to declare their financial status, submit supporting documents and they will be offered the grant. The income and asset limits are also very relaxed, and I could say that this is the most relaxed social welfare scheme I have ever handled. As for the income limit, we adopt the limit set for the elderly aged 65 to 69 under the Normal Old Age Allowance (NOAA) scheme, i.e. a limit of $5,910 for single persons and $9,740 for couples.

On the asset front, we will relax further and set a ceiling at double of that for NOAA. An elderly single person with an asset, excluding their self-occupied properties, of no more than $338,000 or an aged couple with an asset of no more than $508,000 is eligible to apply for the $40,000 grant.

To further implement the "people-based" principle of governance, the scheme will not only benefit those elderly owners with financial difficulties in carrying out building maintenance works, it will also take care of those elderly owners who have already obtained loans under the maintenance loan schemes offered by the BD, the HKHS or the URA for the building maintenance works or other works as required by the BD. If they meet the requirements, they can also apply for a grant under the Scheme to repay their debts. According to our preliminary estimate, some 1,000 elderly owners who have encountered financial difficulties and are unable to repay their debts could benefit from the scheme immediately. I hope that the scheme could relieve them from financial and psychological pressure. The BD will also withdraw their legal actions for recovering those debts.

We have sought the agreement of the HKHS to act as the agent for implementing the Scheme. It is most suitable for the HKHS to implement the scheme as they have done a lot of work in the management of building maintenance and providing assistance to the community. Upon the official implementation of the Scheme, we will work together with the HKHS to conduct large-scale publicity campaigns to introduce the Scheme to elderly owners, owners' corporations and organisations providing elderly services.

We have done a lot of preparation works for the scheme before it was announced last Wednesday. We will present the details of the Scheme to the Legislative Council Panel on Development for consultation as soon as possible. Subject to the Panel's support of the Scheme, we will seek funding approval of $1 billion from the Finance Committee in April. We hope that the Scheme will be implemented in May this year the earliest.

Thank you.

Ends/Monday, March 3, 2008
Issued at HKT 21:50