The Ministry of National Development has rejected a petition to reform public housing policies for single parents, saying that it has no intention to amend the law and introduce exemptions for unmarried and divorced parents.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng had earlier submitted the petition to the MND in September on behalf of seven single parents.
The petitioners called on the authorities to recognise unmarried parents and their children as a family nucleus, so they can be eligible for public housing schemes, as well as removing debarment periods which prevented divorced parents from renting from the HDB or owning subsidised flats.
The petition was then referred to the Public Petitions Committee, which considered it and asked the Ministry of National Development (MND) for a response.
The committee's report and MND's response which was made public on Wednesday (29 November), states, "A range of government agencies work together to ensure that no child is without adequate housing, regardless of whether his or her parents are single or married."
The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) had also sought changes to HDB rules to improve housing access for single-parent families for some time.
However, on its statement, AWARE stated that MND has often responded that HDB exercises "flexibility" in favour of such families on a "case-by-case" basis, suggesting that even if rules appear exclusionary, these families' needs can be met through a discretionary approach.
It stated, "Our experience suggests that even with a case-by-case approach, needs are going unmet. Moreover, while discretion may be used to improve outcomes, it involves uncertainty which imposes costs on applicants. Thus, where possible, rules should be designed to reduce the number who must rely on case-by-case evaluation."
According to MND, the petition called for housing rules to be more inclusive instead of granting case by case exceptions at the discretion of officers at a time when divorce rates are climbing.
Based on the data, there were 7,614 divorces and annulments last year, up by 1.2 per cent from 2015. In 2015, 863 babies were born to unwed mothers here, down from the 1,099 born in 2010.
AWARE has also made several suggestions, which includes allowing divorced parents to rent public housing or buy subsidised housing immediately after the matrimonial flat is sold.
Currently, divorced parents who have owned a HDB flat have to wait 30 months before they can rent from the HDB. While, divorcees face a three-year debarment, during which only one party can own a subsidised flat.
In its reply, MND said that the Government is committed to housing the nation, and ensuring the well-being of children, adding, "However, achieving these goals do not require special legislative exemptions for single parents. As such, MND does not intend to amend the Housing and Development Act, as proposed by the petitioners."
The ministry added that the Housing Board already exercises flexibility in appropriate cases and can also make changes at a policy level, which does not require changing the law.
"When we extend help to unmarried parents, we are also mindful not to undermine the prevailing social norm of parenthood within marriage," the Ministry said.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin stated that MPs who wish to pursue the matter further in Parliament can do so by asking a question or introducing a motion.
Editor's note - MND's reply that HDB exercise flexibility in appropriate cases simply means that single parents or unmarried parents do not have the right to public housing and that they are discriminated upon.