“I am very depressed and suicidal due to my illness and also due to financial stress. I attempted suicide in July but obviously I failed and ended up at A&E at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. The reason is simple. I want my family to get my CPF monies and insurance payout. I have also attempted suicide on many other occasions but to no avail”
Ms Soo (not her real name), a 45-year-old single parent has been out of job since June 2016 due to her health problems. The Singaporean woman is suffering from Systemic Lupus Erythemathosus (SLE), or also known as lupus since 2011. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body. There is no cure for SLE.
“My condition renders it difficult for me to work due to chronic pain and lethargy. I am also photosensitive and have lupus flares and brain fogs very often,” she said in a letter penned to President Halimah Yacob on 15 November.
In the letter, Ms Soo sought President Halimah’s help to release her CPF Funds from Medisave and Special Accounts so that it can be used to help her financially. This is because she had exhausted all her savings as she was unemployed for the last three years.
Despite being an outstanding student in school, Ms Soo vented that she is still unable to secure a job. Although she said that she doesn’t mind washing toilets to earn some cash, but her poor health condition hinders her from any labour-intensive jobs.
“I am unable to stand for long hours. Just standing for ten minutes literally kills me. My kneecaps, joints, back, and feet hurt terribly. I also cannot sit or lie down for long hours. Apart from my eyebrow and hair, I ache everywhere 24/7. I also get headaches very frequently.”
Sole breadwinner in the family
Ms Soo explained that she has a 22-year-old daughter who is currently a second-year student in Singapore Polytechnic, and aging parents who are dependent on her.
Her parents are divorced, and her father is a 75-year-old man who is suffering from cancer and heart failure. “He has retired after working for SBS Transit for over 40 years. Due to his poor health, he is unable to work and is relying on a measly $472 payout from his CPF Retirement Account. The funds will run out very soon,” she said.
As for her 72-year-old mother, Ms Soo pointed out that although she is not suffering from any serious illness, but her mother only earns S$580 a month as a tea-lady. As such, the elderly woman is also dependent on Ms Soo.
CPF Board rejected withdrawal request
In an attempt to seek assistance, Ms Soo said that she approached the MP in her area, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at one of his Meet-the-People sessions in 2018. She wanted his help to release funds from her CPF Special Account so she can use the money to pay her monthly mortgage, which is around S$900.
Unfortunately, her request was rejected by CPF Board.
Recently, she approached Mr Ong once again at his Meet-the-People session in order to request the release of funds from her CPF Medisave and Special Accounts. This is because she has no more money left in her savings and has been borrowing cash from family and friends to survive.
She shared that she has exhausted all means of obtaining financial assistance, such as withdrawing all the funds in her insurance policies, short of terminating them.
“I also requested for HDB to grant me a rental flat so that I can sell my current flat and be free of the monthly mortgage which is literally killing me. I have also approached the medical social worker from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital to obtain some form of medical financial assistance,” she wrote.
In fact, the Associate Consultant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital even gave a letter to the Social Service Office (SSO) at Yishun, stating that Ms Soo is temporarily unfit to work from November 2019 to May 2020.
Despite the letter from the doctor, SSO still rejected Ms Soo and her father’s request for financial assistance, the single mother said.
“Reason being we still have savings in our bank account. I have clarified that the money in my bank account (around $4000) are borrowed money and also my daughter’s bursary monies. As for my dad, he had around $5000 at the point of application.”
About 10 years ago, Ms Soo noted that CPF Board released funds from her Special Account on a monthly basis to pay up for her housing mortgage while she was unemployed. However, the single parent said that “it is not allowed anymore”.
To make it worse, Medisave only allows a very small claimable amount for her medical treatment. Despite being sick, SLE is not classified as a critical illness in terms of her insurance, so there is no payout for her as well.
Given her current situation, Ms Soo said that she hopes “CPF Board can release my funds so that I can either choose to seek treatment or use the funds for my daughter’s education”.
According to Ms Soo, she has around 100k in her CPF account.
“I understand that it is not CPF Board’s policy to release funds from Special Accounts but I hope that this will be permitted as an exception under special circumstances. I may not be able to survive until 55 years old to withdraw my CPF funds. I have depleted my savings after having no income for 3 years,” she said.
She added, “I do not think it is fair for CPF Board to hold my funds under such circumstances. If I am unable to utilize my own money now, what good will it do after I pass away?”
According to the official website of the CPF Board, in order to apply to withdraw some of your CPF savings on medical grounds, they need to certify that you:
- are physically or mentally incapacitated from ever continuing in any employment; or
- have a severely impaired life expectancy; or
- lack capacity within the meaning of Section 4 of the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) and the lack of capacity is likely to be permanent; or
- are terminally ill.
When asked for her CPF monies, CPF Board requested for a medical certificate from her doctor to say that she is permanently unfit to work.
“I am not asking for sympathy or handouts. I do not like to beg either. I just think I should have the right to use my own hard-earned money. I am a law-abiding citizen and I have been paying my taxes dutifully all these years.” said Ms Soo.
Ms Soo even said that she is willing to let go of her Singapore citizenship if that is what it takes to retrieve her funds from CPF. “Either that or I will have to commit suicide again so that my family can get my funds under such circumstances.”
Right at the end of her letter, Ms Soo said that she hopes that the President will be able to help her in “whichever ways you can to your best effort”.
Ms Soo has contacted different media outlets in Singapore. She hopes her story can raise awareness to fellow Singaporeans about how the government is unwilling to extend a helping hand to a good law-abiding citizen in times of dire need.
After the letter was sent to SSO and copied to President Halimah, the Ministry of Social and Family Development sent an email to say that they will look into her case.
TOC understands that President has yet to reply personally to Ms Soo but the President office noted that Ms Soo’s letter has been forwarded to different agencies.
PS. Ms Soo has had years of experience working as a legal secretary and is looking for a job. She does not mind changing to another industry and taking a pay cut, with the employer’s understanding of her medical condition. If interested, please contact [email protected] for her contact.