Divorcees will no longer have to wait three years before they can apply for a second subsidised flat, a move that took some MPs by surprise.
With the change, each spouse in a divorce can buy a subsidised flat as long as they meet the qualifying requirements.
Previously, former spouses could get only one subsidised flat between them. Divorcees with sole care and control of all their children under 18 years old could buy a subsidised flat without getting their former spouse's consent. But those who did not get sole care and control, or had no children, had to get their former spouse's consent if they wanted such a flat within three years.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in announcing the change yesterday, said: "We hope this will help divorced persons provide a more conducive living environment for their children, and go some way to help families through an already-difficult period of transition."
The rules are being eased, as divorces have been rising over the years. For instance, there were 7,614 divorces and annulments in 2016, a rise from 6,904 in 2006.
The debarment period was introduced in 1997 to reportedly prevent couples from "gaming the system" and owning multiple flats. Initially, it was for five years. In 2013, it was reduced to three years.
When asked how to prevent couple from abusing the new situation, the ministry and HDB both told The Straits Times that the courts would have ensured there are valid grounds proving an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage before granting a divorce.
A ministry spokesman added: "Each party will be required to abide by the prevailing policies and terms of their flat purchase. We will not hesitate to take stern action against the parties if there is a breach."
Several MPs had asked during the debate on the ministry's budget that more help be given to divorcees. One of them was Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who later told The Straits Times he was "pleasantly surprised" with the announcement.
Another HDB change will shorten the wait for families who want to buy their second subsidised flat under the Fresh Start Scheme.
To get a two-room flat with a shorter lease, they must have at least one child younger than 16 years of age and live in a public rental flat. The minimum stay in the rental flat will be halved to a year.