Hong Kong’s public watchdog will launch an investigation into the government’s community care voucher scheme for the elderly, which has been underused since its launch eight years ago.

Lek Yuen Estate, Shatin. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The Office of the Ombudsman said on Thursday it would look into the scheme, piloted by the Social Welfare Department and aimed at making day care and home services for seniors more affordable.

“[T]there are views in the community that some elderly persons have insufficient knowledge of the Pilot Scheme, while some have never used the services with the vouchers they received,” Ombudsman Winnie Chiu said in a statement.

Government data shows that more than 20 per cent of senior citizens who qualified for the scheme between 2013-2021 never used the service.

The Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly was introduced in 2013, partnering with day care and home service providers operated by NGOs.

Office of the Ombudsman. Photo: inmediahk.net, via CC2.0.

Under its third phase, senior citizens who are recommended for assistance under a needs assessment mechanism, or who are on a waiting list for residential care services, are eligible to receive monthly vouchers worth between HK$4,170 and $9,980.

Holders can use them to pay for home-based services, including meal deliveries and general caretaking, as well as day care at recognised elderly centres.

Based on the investigation, the Ombudsman will recommend how to make more elderly people aware of the scheme, and how to monitor the service quality of the scheme’s partners.

Hong Kong’s society is rapidly ageing, with around 1.27 million people aged 65 and over in a total population of 7.4 million, according to a 2019 government report. Authorities have long been criticised for not doing more to ease the shortage of places in government-subsidised care homes, with applicants dying while on waiting lists.

Lek Yuen Estate, Shatin. Photo: May James/HKFP.

A Democratic Party spokesperson said the government had fallen short in communicating the scheme.

“The government only sends letters to the elderly to introduce the scheme, and the elderly have to contact the service organisations… some elderly think [the letters] are advertising leaflets, and many cannot understand what they are about,” said Mok Kin-shing, a former Kwun Tong district councillor.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.