Budget debate: More than 8,600 notifications for contractual relief submitted

Under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act businesses and individuals are able to get legal reprieve from their contracts for six months. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Businesses and individuals have submitted more than 8,600 notifications for temporary relief from their contractual obligations as at Feb 23 under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

The majority of the notifications, or 66 per cent, were related to hire-purchase agreements for commercial equipment or vehicles, and rental of commercial and industrial property, said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong on Tuesday (March 2).

Meanwhile, about 117,000 notices of cash grants totalling $947 million have been issued to property owners with tenants who were eligible for rental relief as at Feb 23.

Mr Tong, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, was giving an update in Parliament on the Ministry of Law's (MinLaw) support measures to help Singaporeans and businesses cope with the impact of the pandemic.

Under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, which kicked in last April, businesses and individuals are able to get legal reprieve from their contracts for six months.

This includes contracts for rentals for industrial and commercial property, construction and supply contracts, as well as certain secured loan facilities granted by a bank or finance company to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Certain hire-purchase agreements and contracts for events such as weddings and conferences, as well as in tourism, such as cruise and hotel bookings, are also covered under the law, which seeks to provide breathing space to parties with difficulties meeting their contractual obligations due to the ongoing pandemic.

The temporary relief period was extended in October by between one and five months depending on the type of contract.

In January, the Re-Align Framework also kicked in to help small and micro businesses affected by Covid-19 to renegotiate certain contracts.

Affected businesses had until last Friday to submit a notice of negotiation under the framework.

Mr Tong said 493 such notices were served using MinLaw's online electronic system. This figure excludes notices served in hard copy, which the ministry is unable to track.

Most of the notices, or 372, related to leases or licences for commercial and industrial property for a term of five years or less.

The remaining notices related to contracts for the sale of goods and services; rental agreements for commercial equipment and vehicles; and hire-purchase agreements for commercial equipment and vehicles.

The framework also allows hirers and renters of commercial equipment or vehicles such as private-hire drivers to take up a repayment scheme to have a longer period of time to pay their outstanding loans.

As at last Friday, 126 notices of revision have been served for this purpose, said Mr Tong.

MinLaw also introduced the Simplified Insolvency Programme in January to provide financially distressed micro and small businesses with a cheaper and faster way to restructure their debts or wind up and pivot to a different industry.

Addressing Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who asked about provisions for small landlords under the rental relief framework, Mr Tong said the framework allows harder-hit landlords to halve their share of the rental waivers for tenants.

He added that the Monetary Authority of Singapore had also worked with banks and finance companies to allow affected individuals and small landlords to defer their property loan repayments last year.

To Mr Murali Pillai's (Bukit Batok) question on whether MinLaw would introduce more measures, Mr Tong said the ministry will monitor the situation and make adjustments to existing measures if necessary.

He added that Mr Murali's suggestion of having a framework legislation that can be used quickly in the next crisis would not be suitable, as each crisis is different and requires different responses.

"We must be careful and circumspect before intervening in private arrangements," he said. "A framework legislation, whilst well-intentioned, may not be sufficiently nuanced and targeted to meet the unique challenges of the next crisis."

He added that Singapore's system of governance allows the Government to react quickly in a time of crisis.

"So we do have every confidence that should there be a need to, in subsequent years - touch wood that there will no other such crisis - that we'll be able to respond in similar fashion," said Mr Tong.

Temporary Relief From Contractual Obligations (as of Feb 23)

•8,655 notifications for relief submitted online.

•66 per cent relate to hire-purchase agreements for commercial equipment or vehicles, and leases or licences of non-residential property.

•1,967 applications for an assessor's determination to resolve disputes over whether a business or individual is eligible for relief.

•More than 250 professionals volunteered and served as assessors to resolve these disputes.

Rental Relief Framework (as of Feb 23)

•116,946 notices of cash grant issued to landlords of properties eligible for rental relief.

•$947 million of government cash grant disbursed.

•3,373 applications received for an assessor to determine a tenant's eligibility for rental waivers; a landlord's eligibility to provide reduced rental waivers on the basis of financial hardship; or the actual amount of rent to be waived.

•20 rental relief assessors with backgrounds in accountancy and finance appointed to weigh in on the applications.

Re-align Framework (as of Feb 26)

•493 notices of negotiation served online.

•126 notices of revision served online by hirers and renters of commercial equipment or vehicles, to take up the Repayment Scheme, which allows them to pay outstanding loans over a longer time period.

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