askST: What support is there for S'pore freelancers amid the Covid-19 pandemic?

The scheme disburses up to $9,000 in cash over three tranches to each eligible self-employed person.
The scheme disburses up to $9,000 in cash over three tranches to each eligible self-employed person.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singaporean freelancers and self-employed people with less means and family support can receive financial support from the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs).

The scheme disburses up to $9,000 in cash over three tranches to each eligible self-employed person (SEP).

The criteria for qualifying for the scheme include having started work as a self-employed person on or before March 25, earning a net trade income of not more than $100,000 and living in a property with an annual value of not more than $21,000.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament last month (October) that by the end of that month, more than 195,000 people would have received the three payouts, which are meant to tide them over till the end of the year.

The Government has also said it will study the possibility of extending the scheme.

Applications for the income relief scheme are still open. The number of tranches is not affected by the timing of the application, and as long as you are eligible, you will receive the payouts in three tranches.

Self-employed people who have marginally missed one of the eligibility criteria, and are facing difficult circumstances, can still submit an application for consideration by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which handles applications and appeals for the scheme.

According to the labour movement's website, if you do not meet all the eligibility criteria but face valid and extenuating circumstances, your application may still be approved. But the payout may be moderated accordingly.

If you did not meet the eligibility criteria initially but circumstances have changed, you can still apply. But depending on when your circumstances changed, you may not be entitled to all three payouts.

People who have received government payouts under the scheme do not have to pay income tax on these payouts, after changes were made to the Income Tax Act this month.

Singaporean and permanent resident freelancers can also use the NTUC Training Fund (SEPs) to claim an allowance of up to $11 an hour when attending certain courses.

These include SkillsFuture Series courses and approved sector-specific training programmes such as those on setting up and running a business, e-commerce campaign management and team sports performance analysis.

The list of available courses can be found here.

Self-employed NTUC union members who became members on or before March 1 will receive a training allowance of $11 an hour, while those who joined after March 1 will receive $10.50 an hour. Non-union members will receive $10 an hour.

Before applying for a training course, you will need a letter of eligibility from NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute or a letter showing that you qualify for Sirs.

Upon completing a course, you must submit a claim for the training allowance within 30 working days, by Dec 31. So do take note that the course must end by Dec 31.

Union members can also tap their yearly training fund under the Union Training Assistance Programme as well as SkillsFuture Credit to offset course fees, says Ms Jean See, director of NTUC's Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit (U FSE).

"SEPs have started providing services and support to businesses that have pivoted to hybrid environments. Upskilling SEPs' digital capabilities is a priority and key to sustainable and viable careers," she says.

She also notes that for self-employed people in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) industry, the Event Industry Resilience Roadmap launched last month provides the opportunity for new and refreshed career paths.

NTUC, the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers and NTUC LearningHub will be rolling out a training programme in line with the objectives of the road map for an emerging role, SG SafeEvent Ambassador. This is to prepare Mice industry workers for the gradual safe opening of events, says Ms See.

Freelancers looking for career guidance can approach Workforce Singapore through its Careers Connect centres.

Communities of freelancers in various sectors have also been offering support and advice to one another, such as through the Facebook groups of professional associations.

Ms See says that NTUC U FSE and affiliated associations, such as the National Instructors and Coaches Association, National Private Hire Vehicles Association and National Taxi Association, have also been putting together training and support packages for their respective communities, such as the Government-NTUC Driver Care Fund for private hire vehicle drivers.

Those interested can follow NTUC U FSE on Facebook for updates, she says.