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Around 0.5% of successful SIRS applicants found to have submitted erroneous declarations, asked to return payouts: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo

Around 0.5 per cent of successful Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) applicants were found to have submitted erroneous declarations, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

Applicants in such a circumstance, thus, have been asked to refund their SIRS payouts “to be fair and consistent to all applicants”, Mrs Teo told Parliament on Tuesday (5 January).

The Minister was responding to Sengkang GRC Member of Parliament Jamus Lim’s question on the proportion of payouts under SIRS that has been subjected to clawback in the last three months and the reasons behind doing so.

Mrs Teo said that applicants’ eligibility is determined based on their declarations of their employment income and the number of properties they own.

Subsequent audits found that most applicants were eligible, she noted.

Mrs Teo highlighted that some of the successful applicants whose declarations were found to be erroneous have paid back the payouts given to them under the scheme.

“We will reach out to the rest individually to give them time to do so,” she added.

Dr Lim then posed a follow-up supplementary question to the minister, in which he asked for reasons behind the number of “false positives” in successful SIRS applications such as false reporting on the applicants’ part.

“If that’s the case, was it because they were misled about the kind of criteria they needed [to meet] to submit their applications?” He questioned, adding that if there are actions to mitigate such “false positives”.

Dr Lim also asked if those who are required to refund the SIRS payouts could do so in installments.

Mrs Teo replied that she understood “false positives” to refer to applicants for whom the SIRS benefits were intended but who did not receive the payouts.

“Actually, what we are discussing in this Parliamentary question that has been filed is that they are not the intended recipients of SIRS, but because of the way in which they have declared their incomes, they appeared to be eligible, and the payout was given to them,” she elaborated.

Thus, steps are being taken to ask such individuals to refund the payouts they received, said Mrs Teo.

SIRS, said the minister, had “a very large” number of recipients that were “auto-included”.

“We had used past data to ascertain their eligibility based on the criteria that were set out,” said Mrs Teo, adding that the payouts were processed and disbursed without having to ask the recipients for further information.

However, this method may potentially exclude a group of recipients whose information may have been updated but that the Government may not have been in possession of, she said, explaining why a category for applications was opened.

Applications were also “taken in good faith” due to “tight timelines”, said the minister.

However, as “stewards of public funds”, said Mrs Teo, the Government also had a duty to audit, and the audit showed that most successful applicants “had valid reasons to apply”.

A very small number, however, “may have been mistaken in their own understanding” of their own circumstances and may not quite know what they were earning.

In such situations, the Government will reach out to them to sort out such issues, said Mrs Teo.

Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh asked the Minister asked the specific number of cases of erroneous SIRS declarations among successful applicants have been referred to the police, in reference to her mention of such cases earlier.

The minister had said that the MOM and NTUC are aware of scams inviting people who were not the intended recipients of SIRS to apply, and that consequently, these cases were referred to the police for investigation.

Mrs Teo replied that she was unable to comment further on the number of cases referred to the police as investigations are ongoing.

Mr Singh also asked Mrs Teo as to how many cases are there in which the Ministry of Manpower and the National Trades Union Congress had approved SIRS applications which fall outside the qualifying criteria and are now subject to the clawback.

Mrs Teo replied that the number of successful applicants was around 200,000 — notwithstanding some currently still being processed and are pending — and that the 0.5 per cent “would come about a thousand” applicants.

Mr Singh then repeated his question on how many cases are there in which MOM and NTUC had approved SIRS applications which fall outside the qualifying criteria and that the applicants are now asked to refund the payouts.

Referencing a case illustrated by Mr Singh earlier, Mrs Teo replied: “Mr Speaker, Mr Singh mentioned one. I myself have not come across another, but I believe that there may have been a few.”

“I don’t have a number that I can share with you right now,” she concluded.

Eligible self-employed people who started being self-employed on or before 25 March last year could receive three quarterly cash payouts of S$3,000 each under SIRS.

To automatically be eligible for SIRS, self-employed persons must meet criteria such as earning a net trade income not more than $100,000 annually and living in a property with an annual value of no more than S$21,000.

It was reported that the first payment of SIRS disbursed during the COVID-19 period amounted to over S$360 million.

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