Over 60% of applications for relief by self-employed approved

More than 60 per cent of the applications for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs) processed by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) have been approved, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

It added that the vast majority of those who applied received the same payouts as auto-included recipients after taking into account the "extenuating circumstances" faced by some self-employed people.

The scheme has paid out $400 million so far and benefited nearly 130,000 people, including 100,000 who auto-qualified.

The MOM and NTUC said they "exercised flexibility in assessing each case for its merits".

The criterion, for example, which stipulates that a self-employed person must be living in a property with an annual value not exceeding $21,000, has been expanded to take into consideration those waiting to move into their HDB flat.

Tenants of a room rather than an entire unit can submit rental contracts for reassessment. They will get a payout if the annual rent falls within the annual value criteria.

However, some people who live with their parents still find their situation to be in contention with the annual value criteria.

Creative producer Sharmila Yogalingam, 34, was notified that she will get three quarterly partial payouts of $2,400 each, as she lives in her parents' private property, which has an annual value exceeding $21,000. The full payout disburses $9,000 over nine months.

"While I'm very grateful for any help, I'm a bit disappointed that the criteria has to take into account the annual value of the property we live in," said Ms Yogalingam.

"I have suffered from income loss as a result of Covid-19, in the same way as any other HDB-dwelling artist. Both of my parents have retired, so I'm financially supporting them as the sole breadwinner."

Her job involves hiring freelancers such as stage managers and actors on project-based jobs across a range of media like theatre, Web shows and documentaries. She has lost at least 95 per cent of her income, compared with the same period last year.

Artisan carpenter Alvan Koh will get three quarterly partial payouts of $2,400 each. While grateful for the help, he says the explanation for the reduced amount could be better communicated. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALVAN KOH

"As artists, our pay comes in more irregularly as it depends on when our gigs and projects are scheduled, so perhaps it would be helpful to look at our loss of income in terms of cancelled projects too, so that more self-employed people are able to benefit from this," she added.

Mr Alvan Koh, a 41-year-old artisan carpenter, is also getting three quarterly partial payouts of $2,400 each as his spouse's yearly assessable income is a little over $70,000.

He said: "I'm really grateful for this help... any amount is useful in keeping us afloat when income has hit zero in the past two to three months.

"The only improvement I wish for would be that the application process was more transparent and better executed. For instance, the explanation for the reduced amount should have come from the Government, and not through the grapevine that is Facebook."

Mr Koh's income has fallen by more than 60 per cent.

Some applicants faced challenges throughout the application process. Freelance tutor and translator Rai Said, 45, felt her application was rejected as she had declared her income under the wrong category in the notice of assessment for the 2019/2020 tax year. Income earned by the self employed should be declared as trade income.

Creative producer Sharmila Yogalingam, who lives in her parents' private property, is disappointed the home's annual value was taken into account as she is the sole breadwinner. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHARMILA YOGALINGAM

"It was my first time declaring income as a self-employed person, so I wrongly declared it under the personal income category," she said.

Ms Rai asked that her income be re-classified in the correct category and re-submitted her Sirs application but has been waiting for almost a month for it to be approved.

"Though my income has fallen by around 50 per cent, I'm fortunate to have some funds to stay afloat, but... the process could afford to be a lot quicker," she said.

A private-hire driver who wanted to be known only as Mr Yus, 47, completed the self-eligibility checker and was told that he had auto-qualified. When the confirmation SMS did not arrive, Mr Yus applied manually about a month ago but he has yet to receive any updates.

He makes around $60 a day and has been struggling to make ends meet as he owes the car rental firm around $2,000 and is digging into his savings to cover fuel costs.

People in financial hardship can submit an appeal to the NTUC. The scheme may be extended to them if they missed the criteria by a small margin, or they may be referred to the Social Service Office for assistance through the Covid-19 grant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2020, with the headline 'Over 60% of applications for relief by self-employed approved'. Print Edition | Subscribe