News: MPs want government to review means-testing criteria for financial aid

Sep 10, 2020

Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said eligibility for SIRS should be based on homeownership and not on the type and value of residence.

Three MPs on Monday (31 August) have urged the government to review the criteria of support schemes for Singaporeans who may not qualify for financial aids, reported The Straits Times.

This comes as Singaporeans who live in private or bigger homes may not be eligible for schemes such as the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), even though they have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, as the eligibility is based on the annual home value.

Suggested read: What Does Property Annual Value Mean And How Do You Check Yours?

During the first day of debate on the President’s Address, Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted that single parents returning to live with their elderly parents, soon-to-be-married children who are waiting to move into their Build-to-Order (BTO) units, and recently-divorced Singaporeans may not qualify for SIRS due to such criterion.

Read also: November 2020 HDB BTO Launch: Bishan, Toa Payoh, and More

According to him, eligibility for support schemes should be based on homeownership and not on the type and value of residence.

The Straits Times report noted that SIRS – which aims to help the self-employed affected by the pandemic – is only applicable to those earning a net trade income of $100,000, live in a home with an annual value of not more than $13,000, and do not own two or more properties, among other criteria.

Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) explained that while he agrees that the needy and the lower-income should receive more help, he believes the policy of pegging social assistance based on the annual values of one’s property should be reviewed.

“Why do we have the expectation that people don’t deserve help simply because they have bigger homes? Should we not look at their loss of income? Should we also insist that these people must sell their homes before they get the short-term help specifically targeted at those affected by COVID-19?” he asked as quoted by The Straits Times.

He underscored that Singaporeans suffering from loss of income may need help regardless of the type of home they live in, to pay for expenses such as mortgage instalments, medical bills and school fees.

Acknowledging that residents of private estates have benefited from ample opportunities offered within the city-state, Henry Kwek (Kebun Baru) said these residents have funded the lion’s share of Singapore’s tax revenue and consumed only a small fraction of government aid.

“This is the right balance. As economic winners of our society, it is appropriate that they contribute to help the rest of Singapore move along,” he said as quoted by The Straits Times.

However, policies should be adjusted for certain groups, such as the asset-rich but cash-poor retired seniors and above 50 years old residents facing uncertainty in their careers, he said.

He suggested using a combination of income, non-housing assets and the per capita housing equity of occupants within a home as a basis in assessing eligibility for support.

To help asset-rich but cash-poor private estate residents better tap into their housing equity, he proposed for the government to actively work with the insurance and banking sectors to create reverse mortgage options for such residents.

This would help residents who are above 70 years old to borrow against their housing equity at a reasonable rate as well as those who are opposed to disposing of their homes since they have grown accustomed to their neighbourhood.

“If our people can tap on their housing equity effectively, I believe most Singaporeans in the private estates would prefer to stand on their own two feet, instead of relying on government assistance,” Kwek said.

 

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Victor Kang, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email victorkang@propertyguru.com.sg

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