On Monday (21 Oct), social activist Gilbert Goh posted a message on his Facebook page highlighting that a needy family residing at a 2-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio had received a lawyer’s letter of demand for $180.20.
On the letter, it read:
“Shocked to see this needy family received a town council bill attached with a letter of demand from a legal office for quite a small sum owed – $122,” Mr Goh commented.
The sum is stated to be the total S&CC owing from May 2018 to Sept 2019.
According to Mr Goh, the family is in a dire state as the main breadwinner has contracted cancer and the medical costs have “plunged the family into [a] financial crisis”. He added, “He has since resigned to his illness without seeking for any medical treatment due to high transportation cost than anything else.”
Mr Goh felt that the additional $32 as a late payment fee and another $25.70 for legal charges out of the total payable fee of $180.20 were excessive, in view of the financial status of the family. He said, “These two fees constitute almost 30% of the whole bill – something which weighs heavily on the poor family and probably swamped with many other monthly bills as well.”
He also shared that he has seen some poor families being charged in court for defaulting on their bills, resulting in them having to pay an additional $500 for the court appearance fee, compounding their problem.
“We have seen some poor families facing jail sentences when they appear in court and the hard bitter fact is that the S&CC bill still need to be paid after the sentencing is served,” he added.
In any case, Mr Goh revealed that a good Samaritan has come forward to pay the $180.20 bill after Mr Goh interceded for the family and that all is well – for now.
“But all this goes to show that it’s tough to be poor in Singapore,” Mr Goh lamented.
The letter of demand, was signed off by lawyer T U Naidu who was formerly the Chairman of the Citizen Consultative Committee (CCC) of Eunos and was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2004 for his excellent grassroots work.
Town Councils have to negotiate and engage with residents before charging them for bad debts
As of April 2018, the State Courts placed in measures to direct town councils to negotiate and engage with the residents who owe S&CC before starting criminal proceedings against them as a last resort.
This is in light of the fact that the number of residents who were hauled to court under the Town Councils Act, has more than doubled between 2015 to 2017 and non-payment of S&CC accounted for over 90 per cent of all town council cases filed in the State Courts in 2017.
It is required to issue at least two notices to a resident who does not pay S&CC, before issuing a statutory demand.
It has been said that these protocols will give town councils a “consistent system” of managing these issues, and they will help identify residents who have genuine difficulties in paying S&CC or composition amounts. The town councils can then step in to help or adapt the penalty measures to the residents’ circumstances.
Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan who was quoted in a Today report, said that it takes much “time and manpower resources” to serve three reminder letters and to get property managers to visit residents’ homes to better understand the issue.
Adding that while taking residents to court is only done when there is “no choice”, ultimately, the town council still has “an obligation” to collect the charges for a common pooled fund that is used for estate maintenance.
Mr Lim said: “We can’t have people who don’t pay and (we) do nothing… Just like a management corporation, we owe it as a duty to other people who are paying”.
All the town councils engaged by the State Courts had indicated that they are agreeable to the imposed initiatives. TODAY reported that other than going down the legal route, town councils let needy residents pay off the outstanding amount in instalments, or rope them in to do simple part-time work, including looking out for areas that need to be cleaned or checking for defective items in common areas such as lightbulbs that need to be changed.
In this case involving Ang Mo Kio town council which is headed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the town council seems to have chosen the easy way out of suing the family to pay.