COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Flood of claims stalls website for self-employed income relief

A flood of online submissions yesterday, the first day to submit applications for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), tripped up the website for most of the day.

The government income relief scheme is administered by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). As of 8.30pm yesterday, its application site had been down for more than 10 hours.

A notice on the site said that it was experiencing "high traffic due to a large volume of applications", and encouraged users to try again later "for a better user experience".

A Facebook post by NTUC U FSE (Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit) informed users around 9.45am yesterday that it was aware they were getting an error message during the application process. It said its technical team would look into it.

The scheme, which was announced on March 26, will disburse $9,000 in cash over nine months to eligible self-employed persons (SEP) as part of a supplementary budget to help tide Singaporeans over the Covid-19 pandemic.

About 100,000 self-employed people will automatically qualify for the scheme.

Those who do not can submit their applications and appeals through NTUC.

Applications at https://www.ntuc.com.sg/sirs can be done daily from 9am to 9pm.

NTUC has not set a deadline for the applications.

People took to social media to express their frustration with the system errors and at not being able to get through on the Sirs hotline.

Freelance performer Shana Yap, 27, said: "I was on a Zoom chat with other freelance artists from 1.30pm, and we were collectively trying (to access the server) for an hour. One of us managed to get in, but the server lagged thereafter. So we were all really frustrated."

She added: "I'm hoping that NTUC will resolve this soon, especially after a pre-launch trial was tested out among some SEPs over the weekend to ensure it ran smoothly on Monday."

Some users suggested that NTUC inform SEPs early regarding their eligibility, so that those who auto-qualify would not contribute to the high volume of applications.

NTUC said that those who auto-qualify will be notified and receive their first payout at the end of next month.

Theatre and education freelancer Tung Ka Wai, 37, was worried he might have "missed some parts out" while reading the eligibility criteria.

But after seeking help by using the live chat function on the website, he was reassured he would still be able to apply for the scheme come end-May, should he not auto-qualify for it.

A 38-year-old freelance consultant, who wanted to be known only as Fiona, was anxious to send her application through, as she had not declared positive income to the taxman in 2018.

"My company only began operations last year, so I had not paid income tax as an SEP for 2018," she said.

She contacted NTUC via Facebook and said it "has reassured me there will be ample time for SEPs to submit their application".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2020, with the headline 'Flood of claims stalls website for self-employed income relief'. Print Edition | Subscribe