Pay up $80 means HDB rental increase by $110?


Putting the “financial numbers” to 3 stories on why tackling poverty requires active listening

I would like to applaud Cindy Ng for her excellent article “Commentary: Three stories why tackling poverty requires active listening” (Channel NewsAsia, Jun 30).

It states that “WHEN SALARIES RISE

In a third case, Mr Ali* finds himself in a dilemma. He had done well at work and was offered a promotion. Should he accept the promotion, his salary would increase by approximately S$80.

However, the salary increase means that the rental for his HDB flat may be raised under the rules of the public rental scheme. He is unsure if the raise in rental will be greater than his salary increase. This causes much anxiety in Mr Ali.

When we heard that Mr Ali was planning to turn down his promotion, the social worker stepped in and persuaded him to change his mind. The social worker suggested that paying higher rent is fair since he is earning more. The subsidies are, after all, taxpayers’ money.”

In my 15 years of voluntary work in financial counselling – we try to focus on financial concerns and aspirations.

So, I shall try to put some “financial numbers” to the subject article.

It is likely that Mr Ali’s $80 increase in his salary may have resulted in an increase of his HDB rental (2-room) by up to $110 from $165 (income below $800) to $275 (income over $800)


Some time ago, a young colleague came into my office one morning. He wanted to discuss the situation of Mr Tan*, a man in his sixties who was going to be evicted from his current place of stay. He was unable to get along with his sister, who co-owns the flat with her husband.

Mr Tan had strained relationships with his other siblings and no means of income. He was eligible for HDB public rental housing. But as he could not list a family member as co-occupier, he had to find another single person to be co-tenant in a one-room flat under the Joint Singles Scheme. HDB provided a list of names. However Mr Tan declined and so was referred to our team to discuss other options” – Mr Tan has to find a co-tenant whose combined monthly gross income (including Mr Tan’s) cannot exceed  $1,500 and this criteria has not changed since 2003, despite the rising cost of living in the last 15 years!

With regard to “In the interim, they will apply for short-term financial from the Social Service Office (SSO). They do not qualify for long-term assistance as they are able-bodied.

The social worker will also coach them to use the financial aid wisely: Cut down on cigarettes, prepare meals at home more often instead of eating out, walk instead of taking a bus or a taxi. The financial aid will stretch further that way” – although the amount of “short-term financial assistance” is not public information – I understand that the maximum monthly amount for Mr Tan is about $300.


In another case, we are working with Madam Rani*, a single mother. Her youngest child, aged 6, has special needs and requires full-time care.

Her older children who are still in school, aged 15 to 18, recently found regular weekend jobs to provide for their own out-of-school expenses. They work so the additional income can allow them to participate in activities with their friends and afford the things their friends have. All these because these friendships are very important to them.

But when her children’s earnings were discovered during an income assessment, she was accused of misreporting her family income and her assistance was reduced” – I understand that the per capita household monthly income cannot exceed $650.

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.