Nov 18, 2013

    Spotlight cast on plight of cash-poor, asset-rich

    SOME retirees may be living out their golden years in private properties they acquired several decades ago, but life is not all smooth sailing.

    This is because they do not have much cash, and as their houses are assessed to have a high annual value - the estimated annual rental that could be collected for a property - they attract high property taxes and are sometimes ineligible for government help.

    Such is the plight of Singaporeans who are asset-rich but cash-poor - many of whom appear to be living in the Joo Chiat constituency, going by a dialogue session held for residents yesterday.

    Among the 200 who turned up at Siglap South Community Centre, several said they could not apply for the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) card, because the annual value of their residences exceeded the qualifying criterion of $13,000 and below.

    Speaking on behalf of his neighbours at Opera Estate, retiree Chris Chen, 70, said: "Most of us bought our landed properties many, many years ago, at the cost of buying a car today. But our property tax is based on the value of the house today."

    Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who was fielding questions during the dialogue held after a ministerial community visit, said the Government is mindful of this "sandwiched" group of Singaporeans.

    Speaking later to reporters, Mr Wong said many government schemes are moving away from the criteria in which Budget surplus-sharing measures are allocated, based solely on housing type and the number of rooms for flats.

    He noted that annual valuation is now used as the qualifying criterion for some schemes, which is "fairer", and may even cover those living in lower-end private properties, such as those with an annual value of less than $13,000.

    "The question will be where do you set the cut-off - is $13,000 high enough? Can it be higher? I'm sure the Ministry of Finance will review that cut-off from time to time," he said.

    Regarding Chas eligibility, he said residents could make an appeal to the Ministry of Health, and he added that there are social-assistance measures which have more flexible criteria, like ComCare, and can provide the needed financial aid.

    Some 36 per cent of the people living in Joo Chiat are above 50 years old, and reside mainly in private homes, according to earlier reports.

    In fact, Joo Chiat may become Singapore's first all-private-property constituency in two to three years' time.

    This is because the remaining four blocks of Housing Board flats in the estate are set to be demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.