Current Affairs

Divorcees & single parents can buy HDB flats but still face challenges


In September, Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng presented a petition to Parliament calling for the Housing and Development Act (HDA) to be amended to make housing policies more inclusive for divorcees and unmarried parents.

The petitioners felt that this group of people were disadvantaged because the authorities did not recognise unmarried parents and their children as a family nucleus.

They also disagreed with the long debarment periods that prevented divorcees from accessing purchase and rental flats.

The petition was turned down by the Public Petitions Committee and Ministry of National Development (MND) on Nov. 29.

HDB’s reasons for turning down the petition

Highlighting that the Housing Development Board (HDB) already exercised flexibility in granting exemptions for single parents on a case-by-case basis, the authorities said that there was no need for the HDA to be changed.

They added that HDB could make changes at the policy level when necessary to help single parents.

Even though changes have been made to housing policies over time, current policies affecting divorcees and unmarried parents are very much linked to policy decisions made in the 1990s.

For instance, housing schemes for singles implemented in the 1990s, such as the Joint Singles Scheme and Single Singapore Citizen scheme, remain as one of the most viable housing options available to them.

Unmarried parents

Up until 1994, unmarried parents were eligible to purchase subsidised HDB flats, but it was revoked in a speech made by then-PM Goh Chok Tong:

“HDB currently allows unmarried mothers to buy HDB flats direct as well as on the resale market…This rule implicitly accepts unmarried motherhood as a respectable part of our society. This is wrong…After discovering this slip-up in our rules, we have decided no longer to allow unmarried mothers to buy HDB flats direct from the HDB.”

Currently, if one has a child while unmarried, then the parent and child will not be eligible to form a family nucleus.

To purchase a new flat, the unmarried parent can apply via the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS), where single parents can only apply for a new 2-room flat in non-mature estate if they are 35 and above.

The JSS was introduced in 1990 in response to public feedback for more singles to qualify for public housing. It was a revision and renaming of an existing policy for senior citizens.

In 1990, the age limit for women was lowered from 40 to 35, and for men, from 50 to 40.

Today, the age limit stands at 35 years old for both men and women. However, unmarried parents below the minimum age are still unable to apply for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat.

The same goes for resale flats under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) scheme, where unmarried parents below the age of 35 remain ineligible.


Previously, divorcees who got full custody of all children were subject to a five-year debarment period when buying a second subsidised flat from HDB. This was waived in 2012.

Currently, divorcees with legal custody over all their children form a family nucleus and are eligible to purchase resale and new flats.

However, they must be the only parent given the care and control of all their children, meaning that divorcees with joint custody are not eligible. In this case, they may apply for a flat under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) scheme.

When the SSC was introduced in 1991, applicants could buy three-room or smaller resale flats in all areas except at densely populated estates such as Bukit Merah, Geylang, Queenstown and Mountbatten.

Since then, there had been several policy changes.

For instance, from August 2001, singles could buy resale flats located in any area. And from September 2004 onwards, they were allowed to buy resale flats of any size.

While these revisions were welcome changes for many singles, divorcees are still subjected to an important restriction today: Those who have an existing matrimonial home that is retained by their ex-spouse are subject to a three-year debarment period before they can apply for subsidised housing.


Top photo via Getty Images.

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