Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) in the past year, what is the success rate of ComCare applications; (b) what are the mean and median processing time and amount of award and duration for such applications; (c) what is the most common reason for rejection; and (d) what has been the success rate of appeals against rejections; (e) how frequently are the income caps for various ComCare assistance schemes reviewed; and (f) when is the next review scheduled.
1. ComCare provides assistance to low-income households for their basic living expenses. ComCare Long-Term Assistance (LTA) is provided to those who are permanently unable to work due to old age, illness or disability, and have little or no means of income and family support. Households that require help to tide over temporary financial difficulty are provided with ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA). Social Service Offices (SSOs) assess the household’s income and expenses, and provide SMTA to cover the shortfall in income to meet basic living expenses.
2. In 2020, to provide ComCare beneficiaries with a longer runway to regain stability during the economic downturn, MSF automatically extended the duration of ComCare assistance for existing ComCare beneficiaries by six months. This applied to ComCare beneficiaries whose assistance ended in May to October last year. In addition, new ComCare beneficiaries during April to December last year generally received at least six months of assistance.
3. The approval rates for ComCare applications made in 2020 were 70% for SMTA and 98% for LTA. The most common reason for unsuccessful ComCare applications is that applicants were assessed to have stable income that was sufficient to meet their basic living expenses. Other reasons why applications are not approved include clients withdrawing their applications to apply for other assistance schemes, e.g. the COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG), and clients not submitting supporting documents. MSF does not track the number of appeals.
4. With the flexibilities mentioned earlier, the mean and median duration of cash assistance for SMTA beneficiaries as at 31 Dec 2020 were around 6 months. The mean and median monthly cash assistance amounts were around $600 and $500 per household respectively. This cash assistance is in addition to assistance for rental, utilities, and service and conservancy charges, and other forms of government assistance and subsidies that households could be receiving, such as MediFund for medical expenses, subsidised rental housing, financial assistance for school fees, and childcare and student care subsidies. The majority of SMTA households are one- to two-person households.
5. LTA is provided to those who are assessed to be permanently unable to work and whose circumstances are unlikely to change significantly. It is typically renewed annually when the Social Service Offices conduct a wellbeing check with beneficiaries, to ensure that they continue to receive the range of support they require. The monthly cash assistance amount for LTA beneficiaries depends on the size of their households. About 90% of LTA beneficiaries are from 1-person households and they receive $600 per month. Therefore, the mean and median monthly cash assistance is around $600. LTA beneficiaries also receive subsidised medical care at public healthcare institutions and additional assistance for specialised or one-off needs, such as medical equipment or household appliances.
6. Most applications are processed within 4 weeks once the necessary documents have been submitted by the applicants, and almost all applications are processed within 6 weeks.
7. SMTA has income eligibility criteria of a monthly household income of $1,900 and below or per capita household income of $650 and below. The income criteria for ComCare schemes are not hard thresholds. Rather, our Social Service Offices assess each application holistically and provides financial assistance to those assessed unable to afford basic living expenses. Flexibility may also be exercised on a case-by-case basis. MSF reviews the ComCare provision and eligibility criteria every two to three years to ensure that ComCare objectives are being met. The last review was conducted in 2019, and we plan to next review the criteria in 2022.