The requirements to qualify for the Lease Buyback Scheme for owners of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats are not elder-friendly.
For example, all owners must reach the eligibility age of 65 or older. Why must the ages of husband and wife as joint owners be at least 65 and above? If, for example, the husband is 65 and his wife is 53 years old, that means the husband must also wait until his wife turns 65 before they are considered eligible.
It was common for men in the older generation to have married women who were much younger than them. To be eligible for the scheme, the husband would be 77 by the time his wife reaches 65.
With men having a shorter life expectancy, that means a shorter time for him to benefit from the sales proceeds they get after selling part of the flat's lease back to HDB.
HDB should consider allowing either owner to be 65 and above at the time of application, and not both.
Another issue: What about those who retire early before the age of 65 due to health reasons and not by choice? Shouldn't HDB grant an exemption for this group of residents if they can prove they are in ill health?
This is important because those who retire early due to health problems would require more money to pay for their medical and living expenses besides using their Medisave money from the Central Provident Fund (CPF), which can deplete fast.
Moreover, if the flat owners have reached their CPF Life draw-down age at 65, why do they need to use their money received from the sale of their lease to top up their retirement accounts just because their retirement account is less than the required minimum sum?
Such conditions leave seniors with little choice, especially for those whose CPF accounts are lacking at the age of 65 and they are in need of lump-sum cash for their medical and retirement expenses.
Right now, owners who are under the scheme cannot sublet the entire flat, but some may prefer to live with their children to earn rental income. This is also something the Ministry of National Development should consider reviewing.
The Lease Buyback Scheme may sound attractive, but it must not be too onerous for seniors, and for the money to be held in an escrow account which is the CPF.
On a fair value basis, HDB should allow the owners to appoint their private valuers and the HDB should use the valuation report to calculate the returns of the balance lease at market rate. At present, it is all up to HDB to set the quantum and valuation, which may not be according to market rates.