Authorities will come down hard on those who abuse Covid-19 relief fund: Shanmugam

A photo taken on April 1, 2020, shows people waiting to apply for the Temporary Relief Fund at Nee Soon East Community Centre. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The number of people who have attempted to abuse the Covid-19 Temporary Relief Fund remains small. But the authorities intend to "come down quite hard" on those who do so, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (April 13).

In an interview with reporters via video conference, Mr Shanmugam reiterated that the application process for the Covid-19 Temporary Relief Fund was made simple so that those who need the help can get it as quickly and effectively as possible.

The fund gives a one-time cash assistance of $500 to lower- and middle-income Singapore residents who have lost their jobs or income due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Shanmugam said: "Most people apply on (a legitimate basis), and they do need the money. And that's how this is intended to work. (But) we are going after a small number who are taking advantage, because if we don't, that will encourage others to try."

He added that the authorities are looking into a couple of cases of such abuse of the fund, including one announced earlier by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Singapore Police Force.

Applications for the Temporary Relief Fund will be processed as soon as possible, and applicants will receive the $500 sum via cheque or bank transfer if they are eligible. MSF has been making adjustments to the fund to make it more flexible and responsive, such as by allowing for a wide variety of supporting documents such as WhatsApp messages and screenshots to be accepted. Those with no documents can also make a legal declaration on the form.

Since applications to the fund opened on April 1, more than 300,000 people have filed for the aid.

Mr Shanmugam noted wryly that after Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee made a Facebook post on April 7 warning people against making fraudulent claims, a number of people have come forward to return the $500 sum, saying that they did not need the money.

While they may have technically committed an offence, the authorities are unlikely to take any action against those who have returned the sum, Mr Shanmugam added.

On Sunday, the MSF and the police said that they have been alerted to a case of possible abuse of the Temporary Relief Fund.

An Internet user had made an online post claiming that he was able to obtain the Temporary Relief Fund aid without any documents and that the system was "so simple to cheat", the two organisations said in a joint statement. The police have identified a 41-year-old Singaporean man behind the post and investigations are ongoing.

The police said it is also aware that there are advertisements on social media purportedly selling forged payslips for the purpose of making fraudulent claims for the Temporary Relief Fund.

Remote video URL

MSF and the police said on Sunday they treat such cases seriously and will not hesitate to take action against anyone who abuses and/or facilitates the abuse of the fund. Anyone convicted of cheating could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.