SINGAPORE - Senior citizens aged 65 and above who qualify for the Silver Support Scheme will get their first payouts in July, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday (March 24).
More than 140,000 seniors will stand to benefit from the permanent scheme, which Mr Heng called a "major new feature" in Singapore's social security system. It will cost nearly $320 million in the first year.
Elders who qualify will be automatically included into the scheme, and will not need to sign up. They will be notified by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board before the first payout is made.
These payouts will be made to the bank accounts which the elderly have registered with the CPF Board. Those without a bank account will get their payouts via cheques sent to their registered address.
The scheme aims to support the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporean elderly, with a smaller degree of support extended to cover up to the 30 per cent of seniors. They will get between $300 and $750 every quarter, depending on their household type.
Meanwhile, senior citizens who are already on the monthly ComCare Long Term Assistance Scheme will get a Silver Support payout of $300 per quarter. Taken together, they will receive $1,800 per quarter.
"It can be a modest but meaningful supplement to their retirement incomes," Mr Heng said.
But he cautioned that the scheme is not meant to replace other sources of support - whether their own savings or family support. It will also complement other existing support schemes, such as Workfare, healthcare subsidies or the Goods and Services Tax (GST) voucher.
The Government has said the scheme was meant to be rolled out from the first quarter of 2016. But Mr Heng admitted it had needed more time to operationalise the "new and extensive scheme".
In doing so, it has "deliberated with care" the fairest way to identify seniors who are at the bottom 20 to 30 per cent.
A combination of three key criteria will be used to identify eligible senior citizens, said Mr Heng. They are lifetime wages, housing type and the level of household support.
Seniors who have not more than $70,000 in their total CPF contributions by the age of 55 will meet the first criterion of lifetime wages.
For those who are self-employed, they should not have an average annual net trade income of more than $22,800 when they were between age 45 and 54.
Those who own, and live in, a four-room or smaller Housing Board flat will meet the housing type criterion. Those who live in - but do not own - five-room HDB flats will also qualify, albeit for a smaller payout, should they meet other criteria.
The household support condition requires seniors to come from the bottom third of households where, on average, each member earns not more than $1,100 per month.
Mr Heng said: "Together, these three criteria allow us to make sure Silver Support goes to those who have lower incomes over their lifetimes and less retirement support."
The first payment in end-July will be a double payout meant for two quarters - April to June and July to September, Mr Heng said. Subsequent payouts this year will come in end-September and end-December. Payouts will be made in March, June, September and December from next year.
An annual review will determine whether seniors continue to qualify, or if there are other seniors who need more support.
From next year, Singaporeans turning 65 who meet the eligibility criteria will be notified in December of the previous year. Their first payout will start from the quarter in which they turn 65 years old.
Mr Heng also said that the majority of seniors who do not qualify for the scheme can still continue to benefit from other "substantial existing support schemes", including the GST voucher, higher healthcare subsidies through MediShield Life premium subsidies or the Pioneer Generation Package.
In announcing the implementation details for the first time since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the scheme at the National Day Rally in 2014, Mr Heng noted the proportion of senior citizens is slated to double from one in eight today to one in four by 2030.
"How we adjust, and turn this into a source of strength, will shape our society," he said. "Together, we must, and will, make Singapore into a model for successful ageing, and empower all to age with dignity and vitality."
Mr Heng also announced a new pilot programme, called Community Networks for Seniors, comprising local stakeholders such as non-profit organisations, schools and businesses.
Through these networks, the Government hopes to help seniors discover any health conditions earlier and manage them well. It also hopes to connect those who are healthy and mobile to a wide range of activities to encourage them to stay active.