Tread carefully in tweaking service and conservancy rebates

Professor Randolph Tan argued that handouts such as rebates for service and conservancy charges (S&CC) should target those who need it the most instead of being offered broadly, but did not explain how this can be done ("Social spending tweaks likely after slew of big moves"; Feb 9).

Currently, the number of months of S&CC rebates given is based on the type of HDB flat the household lives in, with those who live in smaller flats getting more.

Many five-room flats in the older estates are occupied by elderly couples whose children have moved out after marriage.

Some of these owners prefer not to depend on their children for financial support.

At the same time, they are not allowed to participate in the HDB's Lease Buyback Scheme, which applies to flats of up to four rooms.

They may be eligible for the Silver Housing Bonus Scheme, which allows them to buy a smaller unit, but many may not be in favour of moving out of estates they have been living in for decades.

So if their S&CC rebates are removed, they may struggle with household expenses.

Take, for instance, the proposed collective sale of Shunfu Ville estate, which was sparked by the inability of the ageing residents to keep up with maintenance payments in the ageing estate ("High Court clears owners' panel over en bloc sale"; Feb 9).

Rather than targeting social handouts to keep public help sustainable, they can be balanced with higher income tax.

While many do not enjoy paying higher taxes, the benefits that we get from properly funded government programmes far outweigh the pain of paying taxes.

We can also increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol consumption and introduce a sugar tax to help reduce public spending on diabetes management.

By cutting social spending on the poor and the elderly, much of the burden would fall on their families, who may also be struggling financially.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Tread carefully in tweaking service and conservancy rebates'. Print Edition | Subscribe