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The Social Welfare Department (SWD) will appeal the High Court ruling that struck down the one-year-continuous-residency requirement for applicants under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA).
"According to legal advice, the court ruling involves issues of general importance. The authorities therefore see a need to seek clarifications from the Court of Appeal," said a departmental press release. A spokesman for the department refused to elaborate, saying the case is now under appeal.
The High Court last month tossed out the CSSA requirement that applicants limit their absences from Hong Kong to 56 days during the one-year period before the date of application. The department has suspended the restriction under the ruling.
"We are disappointed," said Wong Chi-yuen, community organizer of the Society for Community Organization, a local NGO. "The high court has clearly ruled that the residence requirement for CSSA applicants is illegal. According to the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, we urge the administration to revise relevant regulations about CSSA and the 'fruit money' immediately."
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'Fruit money', or Old Age Allowance, is the monthly allowance provided by the SWD to Hong Kong residents who are 65 years old or above. Both 'fruit money' and CSSA require a 56-day residency before application.
According to Wong Chi-yuen, there are about 30,000 people affected by the residency requirement of CSSA and 50,000 blocked for the 'fruit money' currently. The cost to the public purse of the outstanding 'fruit money' cases would amount to HK$60 million.
Early on Monday, Mrs Pan, a 96-year-old Hong Kong citizen, was sent back to the SAR by a mainland ambulance and transported to North District Hospital.
Pan retired 13 years ago and decided to live on the mainland because of the lower living cost. After spending most of her savings in Guangdong, Pan could no longer depend on her relatives and was forced to move back to Hong Kong and apply for CSSA as well as the 'fruit money'.
"The old lady doesn't want to come back," said Wong Kwok-kin, a Legislative Council (LegCo) member. "Now she can only live in a nursing home, but if the government can lift the obstacles on applications, Mrs Pan would be able to live on the mainland, as is her wish."
"Mrs Pan is a Hong Kong resident," said Wong Chi-yuen. "She is old and helpless. The government should exempt her from the residency requirement."