Social Welfare Benefits in Hong Kong

Information on who qualifies for benefits in Hong Kong, where and how to register with the authorities and what contributions and benefits to expect...

The Social Welfare Department (SWD) is responsible for implementing Government policy on social welfare, developing and co-ordinating social welfare services and organising payment of all Social Security benefits.

The Social Welfare Department also oversees various charitable funds for those in severe financial difficulty.

Obtaining benefits of any kind in Hong Kong is not always easy. Eligibility for many benefits will prove difficult for newcomers to Hong Kong. In some cases, a period of seven years residency is required before benefits are paid. When calculating state benefits in Hong Kong, income is taken into consideration before a benefit is awarded. In general, payments aim to bring a household income up to a minimum prescribed level.

See below for information on:

Medical

Subsidised healthcare is available to all eligible residents at reasonable cost.

  • The Department of Health has a list of fees and charges for the health care services that they provide: Click here
  • For an example of eligibility criteria and fees for maternity services: Click here

The Family Health Service deals with a whole range of requirements for babies and young children from birth to five years and women at or below 64 years of age. The service is physically operated through 31 Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHCs) and 3 Woman Health Centres (WHCs). Immunisation, as well as health and developmental surveillance, including physical examination, growth and developmental monitoring, and hearing and vision screening, are offered to babies and children at these centres.

Sickness and maternity benefits

Workers make contributions which entitle them to a certain level of cover via schemes run or paid into by their employer. Otherwise, payment via the SWD may be made subject to minimum residency requirements and the necessary medical documentary evidence. Benefits are means tested and household income is assessed.

The Employment Ordinance (Labour Department 2001) pertains to maternity protection and guarantees the following:

  • A continuous period of 10 weeks' maternity leave for any woman who has been employed under a continuous contract for at least 40 weeks prior to the start of maternity leave. Women will need to obtain a Certificate of Pregnancy from their doctor specifying the due date. Maternity leave begins between two and four weeks before the due date. 4/5 of the usual wage is paid during this leave.
  • An additional period of no more than four weeks' leave if there is illness or disability as a result of the pregnancy or the birth
  • Attendance at any medical examination relating to the pregnancy
  • Any post-natal treatment or miscarriage will be treated as sickness and will be paid

Sickness allowance exceeding four consecutive days is paid at 4/5 of the normal wage, subject to certain conditions as described in the Employment Ordinance.

  • For a concise guide to the Employment Ordinance: Click here

Disability benefits

These are administered within the SWD under two non-contributory schemes. Parents with disabled children and disabled adults can approach the SWD for help via the SWD website.

  • For specific details of the country's disability allowances and how to qualify: Click here

Adults with disabilities are catered for under the Social Security Allowance Scheme. The Disability Allowance provides a flat-rate payment and is designed for those who suffer a severe disability which essentially means a total loss of earning capacity. Under normal circumstances a period of seven years' residency is required before benefits are paid.

Children with disabilities may receive benefits under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA). The usual residency requirement of seven years is waived for under 18s. However, benefits are usually only paid following income and asset assessments of the household and in instances in which the individual is severely disabled.

  • For more information from the Social Welfare Department: Click here

Family benefits

There are a number of "family" benefits.

Childcare costs: Childcare centres are regulated by the Social Welfare Department under the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau. For low-income families some or all of the fees payable may be reimbursed. See the site for more details of application procedures.

Education costs: The government is committed to providing nine years of free education for all children from ages 6–15. However, on a practical language level and also from a legal residency point of view, new arrivals will not necessarily be able to take advantage of free state education for their children. All newcomers with school-age children would be well advised to read the fact-sheets available from the Education and Manpower Bureau.

Child benefit: Child benefit does exist in Hong Kong and is part of the range of family benefits. Unlike some countries it is not an almost automatic right once a child is born. The benefit is payable for children younger than age 15 (ages 15 to 21 if in full-time education). To qualify for any benefit applicants are means tested on the entire household's income and assets. It does not take a great deal of income or assets before benefit will be denied. Application should be made via the SWD by anyone who feels they may qualify.

Unemployment and work-related benefits

Those who are employed make contributions to funds which in turn provide them with a range of benefits including sickness allowances, maternity benefits and redundancy pay. These particular benefits are outside the scope of the SWD. Many of these benefits are paid by insurance policies set up by employers. The self-employed need to make their own private provision. For those without work, entry into Hong Kong may not be possible. Having been in work and subsequently losing a job may mean leaving Hong Kong or at least applying for permission to stay. There is no automatic right to a state unemployment benefit.

The main piece of labour legislation is the Employment Ordinance. It sets out the conditions of service in general employment and includes provisions for paid holiday leave, sickness allowances and severance pay.

The Labour Department provides free-of-charge employment services to employers and job-seekers. It also oversees labour relations and trade union activity as well as safeguarding employees' rights and benefits. Safety and welfare at work are also the responsibility of the Labour Department.

  • For more information about the role of the Labour Department: Click here

The Support for Self-Reliance Scheme is the benefit scheme which applies mostly to the unemployed. It is designed to help able-bodied unemployed people find work and to provide them with a basic level of income in the meantime. There are strict rules regarding being available for work and undertaking some community work while unemployed. In return a certain level of income is disregarded for tax purposes once someone returns to work. As the rules are quite detailed it is advisable to download details from the SWD website. Only residents aged between 15 and 59 are eligible and there are strict residence requirements – usually seven years. Like other benefits in Hong Kong, applicants will be means tested and if they live in a family group this means the household income not just their own financial means will be assessed.

  • More details of this benefit and how to apply for it can be found on the SWD website

Retirement benefits

The government provides for the elderly via a scheme called the Social Security Allowance Scheme. The Old Age Allowance is paid to those aged 65-69 on a means tested basis and then to over 70s at a higher rate regardless of means.

Be aware that benefits of this type are not generous and newcomers may not qualify. A minimum period of residency (usually seven years) is required and anyone covered by the retirement benefits of another country will be excluded.

  • For information on eligibility and application: Click here

Mandatory Provident Fund

This privately managed scheme functions as a government retirement scheme. All employees aged 18 to 65 and earning more than $5,000 per month have to pay into a Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF). The sum paid is matched by an employer's contribution. Any payments made are tax deductible, and some expatriates paying into overseas retirement or pensions funds may be exempted.

The amount paid by the employee is equivalent to 5 percent of the salary, although the maximum mandatory monthly contribution is $1,000.

  • For information from the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority: Click here

Miscellaneous

The SWD also administers three other non-contributory funds: