National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced during the debate on his ministry's budget in Parliament on Tuesday (6 March) that divorcees will no longer have to wait for three years before they can apply for a subsidised flat.
Under the current bill, only divorcees who get full custody of all children can purchase a second subsidised flat after disposing of the matrimonial home. However, those who do not get full custody, or have no children, are subject to a three-year debarment period.
"We have reviewed the matter, and have decided to remove the time bar completely. We hope that this will 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," the minister said.
He said that the change comes as divorces go up over the years. For example, there were 7,614 divorces and annulments in 2016, up from 6,904 in 2006.
The bill was introduced in 1997 to allow a divorced couple only one subsidised flat between them, to prevent couples from "gaming the system" and owning multiple flats. Both sides had to agree on who would be allowed to buy the subsidised flat, in what was called the "mutual consent requirement".
The time limit was set at five years initially. In 2013, it was reduced to three years.
The ministry and HDB told Straits Times that to prevent couple from abusing the new situation, the courts would have ensured there are valid grounds proving an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage before granting a divorce.
"Each party will be required to abide by the prevailing policies and terms of their flat purchase. We will not hesitate to take stern action against the parties if there is a breach," a ministry spokesman added.
Under the Fresh Start Scheme, another HDB change will shorten the wait for families who want to buy their second subsidised flat that to get a two-room flat with a shorter lease, there must be at least one child younger than 16 years of age and live in a public rental flat. The minimum stay in the rental flat will be halved to a year.