AWARE: Remove debarment rule for all divorced parents, regardless of care and control arrangements

Gender equality group AWARE commends the Government’s move to lift the three-year time-bar imposed on divorced couples for purchase of subsidised housing, urging the state to apply the removal to all, regardless of their care and control arrangements.

“This is a welcome step forward, and can help many parents who would otherwise struggle with securing stable and affordable housing after the sale of their matrimonial flat. However, we hope that the removal of the time-bar will be applied to all divorced parents with any form of care and control of their children, including those with shared or split care and control,” said Corinna Lim, AWARE’s Executive Director.

“We have further to go to truly support single-parent families access affordable housing. The Government should also consider removing the 30-month time-bar for public rental housing. This will be particularly helpful for low-income families, who are more severely impacted by the high cost of divorce, and for whom having immediate access to rental housing is most beneficial.”

In a case cited in AWARE’s 2017 study on single parents’ access to housing, a divorced mother with two children found her search for stable housing impeded due to her getting split care and control - her son was living with her ex-spouse, while her daughter lived with her. It subjected her to the three-year debarment for HDB home ownership, and made HDB officers less friendly towards her appeals for rental housing. The officers she interacted with told her repeatedly that they cannot offer any temporary help because she lacks sole care and control over all her children.

“The debarment rules - both for purchase and rental - have created unnecessary hardship for many divorced parents. No matter what the terms of care and control are, ultimately, all parents and their children deserve equal access to secure housing,” said Ms. Lim.

Over the last two years, AWARE has been persistently advocating for fairer housing rules for single-parent families, including calling for removal of the debarment policy, through its #asinglelove campaign. Last September, seven single parents signed a parliamentary petition pushed by MP Louis Ng, calling for reform of public housing policies.

One of the petition signatories, Jamie (not their real name), said, "As a parent with shared care and control of my children, I truly hope that this amendment will include families like mine as well. At the end of the day, we're still taking care of the kids based on arrangements that have been ordered by the court in a divorce. If the divorce is bitter, it makes it more difficult to attain written consent from an ex-spouse to purchase subsidised housing. My main priority is to find a better home for my children to grow up in. I urge the Government to lift the debarment rule fully for all parents with care and control, instead of penalising one group further."

In announcing the removal of the three-year time-bar, Minister Lawrence Wong said that it is to “help divorced persons provide a more conducive living environment for their children, and go some way to help families through an already difficult period of transition.”

Said Ms. Lim, “We are heartened by the Government’s recognition that easier access to affordable housing can help divorced parents. We hope policy-makers ensure that this consideration is also extended to unmarried parents, who currently have the rules stacked against them.”