SINGAPORE – About 1,000 people have been asked to return their payouts from the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), after it was found that there were erroneous declarations in their applications, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 5).

The number affected amounts to about 0.5 per cent of around 200,000 successful Sirs applications, with around $1.8 billion paid out to self-employed people between April and December last year.

“To be fair and consistent to all applicants, those with erroneous declarations have been approached to refund their Sirs payouts. Some have already done so, and we will reach out to the rest individually to give them time to do so,” she said in response to a question from Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC).

Sirs is a Covid-19 assistance programme which provided self-employed people with three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 each in May, July and October.

Mrs Teo said that Sirs, as with all other government schemes, is subject to financial audit. An external auditor appointed by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which is in charge of administering the scheme, will be conducting the audit.

The Manpower Ministry also conducted its own audit, which is now still ongoing, before and after the final payout tranche was disbursed.

“For timely assistance to self-employed individuals, eligibility was assessed based on applicants’ declarations of their employment income and number of properties owned. Those whose declarations met the eligibility criteria received payouts,” she said.

While subsequent audits affirmed the eligibility of most successful applicants, a minority were found with erroneous declarations.

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WP chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if there were cases where the MOM or NTUC had approved applications even though the applicants fell outside the qualifying criteria, and subsequently clawed back payouts upon deciding later that the applications should not have been approved in the first place.

Mrs Teo said she had not come across such cases, though she believes there may have been a few of them. She also said that she did not have figures on this to share.

The minister added that the MOM and NTUC are aware that there were scams inviting people who were not the intended recipients of Sirs to apply. These cases have been referred to the police for investigation.

Asked by Mr Singh about the number of those cases, Mrs Teo said that she did not have the data on hand.

The MOM said in December last year that some self-employed Singaporeans had been sent letters asking them to return the Sirs payouts they received after audits found that they had erroneously declared their income or the number of properties they owned.

Some who received the letter have appealed to the ministry, claiming that they had not under-declared their income or property status.

Sirs was open to those who earn a net trade income of up to $100,000 and live in a property with an annual value of no more than $21,000. Applicants must not own more than one property.

Those who are renting can submit proof of their annual rental contract. They must also have started self-employment on or before March 25, 2020.

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