COVID-19 SPECIAL

Some self-employed unable to benefit from enhanced Sirs scheme

Some SEPs claim they are still ineligible for any aid.
Some SEPs claim they are still ineligible for any aid.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Around 100,000 of the self-employed will now be able to automatically benefit following the two enhancements made to the Self-Employed Person (SEP) Income Relief Scheme (Sirs) as part of the supplementary budget announced in Parliament on Monday (April 6).

The Ministry of Manpower made two key enhancements to the scheme which now includes SEPs who also earn an income of no more than $2,300 per month from employment work, as well as those who live in a property that has an annual value of up to $21,000. This will be based on one's place of residence on their NRIC.

However, some SEPs, who have suffered a steady loss in income amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claim they are still ineligible for any aid.

Mr Philip Taim, 60, who is a self-employed tour guide is unable to qualify for Sirs, as his wife, who is a sales agent, has an assessable income of more than $70,000 a year.

The faltering tourism sector has led to a complete loss of income, which averages out to be more than $1,500 each month, for Mr Taim, placing an additional burden on his wife who is the main breadwinner for their family of four.

To better help tour guides caught in a similar situation, he suggested that the training support schemes under the SkillsFuture series be expanded to include Professional Development Courses (PDC), as well as foreign language courses for them.

"I think at the end of the day, we still want to stick to our careers as tour guides, so we would like to take this down time to upskill ourselves," he said.

Other SEPs like Mr Sean Goh, 40, who was a film festival operations staff, has found himself seeking temporary employment as a temperature screener at a kidney dialysis centre.

He narrowly missed the eligibility criteria for Sirs despite the enhancements as his private property has an an annual value of more than $21,000.

"It's the first time in my life that I'm actually applying for government aid, but I'm agreeable to downgrading my lifestyle in order to survive," he said.

A freelance illustrator, who only wanted to be known as Ms Nichole, 36, is worried about expenses in the coming months as she is an expectant mother.

 
 
 

She is unable to benefit from the scheme as her husband, who works in IT at a consulting firm, has an assessable income of more than $70,000 a year.

"My main income comes from art projects, like commissioned illustrations for events and art festivals. I gave workshops too, but these have stopped now," she said.

For instance, the sudden cancellation of a major festival saw an immediate loss of income for her amounting to around $10,000.

She is now switching to freelancing on graphic design, hoping to reach out to overseas agencies for projects as exchange rates are now favourable.

Other creative artists like freelance musician Rene Ann Wong, 24, is worried that she may not qualify for the Sirs scheme as she had not registered as an SEP before March 25.

Having only started working as a full time freelance musician in August, she said that she "wanted to accumulate at least a year's worth of experience before registering as an SEP, because a lot of things are not yet set in stone, such as irregular payments and projects that span across months; for instance, artist royalties usually come in by the quarter,"

Mr Sheldon Gooi, who is president of the Star Association, a national body representing freelancers from the events and entertainment industry said that the association is working towards proposing a tiered relief scheme so that those excluded from the criteria could receive a lower level of assistance to tide them over.

For instance, business owners who own small, private limited companies find that they are ineligible for the Sirs scheme, as they draw a monthly salary as company employees.

 
 
 

"Some of them are one-man show companies and have no employees, hence they are unable to benefit from the Job Support Scheme (JSS) as business owners and yet will not qualify for Sirs either," said Mr Gooi, pointing to a group who are unable to benefit from either scheme.

NTUC U FSE (Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit) Acting Director Jean See said it welcomed the enhancements to Sirs as an additional 12,000 SEPs are now able to benefit.

It also said that it would be helping those who narrowly missed the criteria with their applications and appeals which can be submitted from April 20.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said MOM's enhancements to Sirs would include those who own property that has an annual value of up to $21,000.  It should instead be those who live in a property that has an annual value of up to $21,000, based on the place of residence on one's NRIC.  We are sorry for the error.