On 17 August 2023, the Ombudsman, Ms Winnie Chiu, announced at a press conference the completion of a direct investigation into the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly (“the Pilot Scheme”) and made 11 recommendations to the Social Welfare Department (“SWD”) for improvement.
In September 2013, the Government introduced the Pilot Scheme to support frail elderly persons to age in place under the “money-following-the-user” mode. With its second and third phases entered upon in October 2016 and October 2020 respectively, the Pilot Scheme has been in operation for about a decade. Based on their individual needs, holders of community care service vouchers (“CCS vouchers”) can receive day care service and home care service offered by service providers recognised by SWD. The Chief Executive has stated in the 2022 Policy Address that the Pilot Scheme will be regularised in the third quarter of 2023 and the number of beneficiaries will increase in phases, from 8,000 at present to 12,000 in 2025/26. The coverage of the Pilot Scheme will also be expanded to include the rental of assistive technology products.
An investigation by the Office of The Ombudsman revealed that as the operation of the Pilot Scheme is essentially different from that of traditional subsidised services, both the market and elderly participants needed time to understand and familiarise themselves with it. In the second and third phases of the Pilot Scheme, SWD introduced various enhancement measures. Some of these measures, for example, extending the eligibility of recognised service providers (RSPs) to include private organisations, and expanding the coverage of the Pilot Scheme from eight districts to all 18 districts throughout the territory could not be achieved immediately.
Hence, it is understandable that SWD has taken a relatively long period of time to test the measures and operation of the Pilot Scheme for enhancement.
The Office’s investigation also found that SWD’s proactive steps to send invitation letters to eligible elderly persons and issue CCS vouchers have helped lift the utilisation rate (i.e. the percentage of the number of voucher holders actively using the services over the quota of vouchers) from around 60 per cent in the second phase to 86 per cent near the end of the third phase (as at the end of December 2022). SWD’s practice has improved the utilisation of the voucher quota and is worthy of recognition. The Office’s findings revealed that many elderly persons waitlisted for community care services (“CCS”) on the Central Waiting List for Subsidised Long Term Care (“LTC”) Services (Central Waiting List) actually applied for CCS vouchers to meet potential needs before they were granted traditional subsidised services. In fact, this is in line with SWD’s positioning of CCS vouchers as an additional option for elderly persons on the Central Waiting List to receive assistance with the vouchers issued when necessary. Under the Pilot Scheme, RSPs apply for reimbursement on an accountable basis. Unused CCS vouchers, therefore, will not waste public money or occupy resources of RSPs.
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Source: The Office of the Ombudsman of Hong Kong, China