Nearly 3 times more households received help with mortgage payments than in same period in 2019: HDB

Of the households assisted, two-thirds requested to defer their loan instalments or pay loan arrears by instalments. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - A total of 1,356 households that could not meet their monthly mortgage payments received help from the Housing Board from April to June this year, as Singaporeans grapple with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is nearly a threefold increase from the 517 households in financial difficulty that received help during the same period last year.

Of the 1,356 households assisted, two-thirds requested to defer their loan instalments or pay their loan arrears by instalments, the HDB told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Aug 19).

The remaining one-third of households received other forms of assistance, including the extension of their mortgage loan tenure to help reduce monthly instalments.

Among those who received help was taxi driver Edwin Leong, who had defaulted on two months of his housing loan by the time he called HDB for financial assistance in April.

The 41-year-old said his income plunged by more than half when Singapore went into a standstill during the two-month circuit breaker period.

"I was quite worried about the late fees and future payments, so I just decided to call HDB to try my luck and see if it can help me," said Mr Leong, who is the sole breadwinner of a family of four, with two children aged 10 and 13. They live in a five-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang.

Mr Leong opted to reduce his $670 monthly HDB loan instalment for six months till December and is now paying 40 per cent less than what he used to. The difference owed will be spread out over future instalments.

"This few hundred dollars has helped to lighten my load, so I'm not so stressed. Hopefully, the Covid-19 situation is better by December. If not, I'm also not sure what to do," he said.

One of the relief measures to help Singaporeans through Covid-19 was the suspension of late payment charges on HDB mortgage arrears for three months from April to June. It was further extended for another three months to the end of September.

The current late payment charge is 7.5 per cent per annum based on the outstanding instalment amount at the end of the month.

Banks and finance companies have also been providing relief for those with difficulty making their loan repayments.

Data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore shows that 34,000 home owners have asked to stop paying their loans and interest until December. Another 2,100 people have asked banks to defer their renovation and education loans.

In its statement on Wednesday, HDB said it has in place various assistance measures to help flat owners facing financial difficulties tide through this crisis. These include allowing flat owners to:

- Reduce or defer their loan instalments for six months, with a further six-month extension if necessary;

- Pay their loan arrears by instalments till their financial situation improves; and

- Extend their mortgage loan tenure to help reduce their monthly instalments, if needed

"This will give them more time and space to sort out their finances, seek re-employment and/or improve their financial situation," said HDB.

Those who face "longer-term hardship" can include working family members as joint owners to help pay for the flat. Alternatively, they can consider right-sizing to a smaller flat that is within their budget, added HDB.

HDB flat owners who require assistance with their mortgage payments can contact HDB on 1800-225-5432 from 8am to 5pm on weekdays, or make an appointment with housing counsellors at the HDB branch offices for help and advice.

"Our housing counsellors offer financial counselling, assess the credit situation of flat owners, and provide advice on options to suit their needs, including making referrals to social support agencies for job placements and financial aid, if necessary," said HDB.

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