SINGAPORE: About 31 per cent of applications for a Housing and Development Board (HDB) eligibility letter up until Sep 25 were processed within the “service standard” of 21 days, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann in parliament on Wednesday (Oct 4).
HDB expedited the process for flat buyers who experienced longer waiting times, added Ms Sim. They are part of the remaining 69 per cent – or more than 34,500 – of applications that took more than 21 days to be processed.
Those who wanted to participate in the Build-to-Order (BTO) launch in May did not miss out on it even if they received the outcome of their application after 21 days had passed, Ms Sim told the House.
She was responding to a parliamentary question filed by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, who referenced a CNA article on technical issues that affected the issuance of HDB flat eligibility (HFE) letters earlier this year.
The new HFE letter has been a requirement since May 9 for both new and resale flat buyers. HDB said then that the letter would simplify the home-buying process by consolidating eligibility assessments for flat purchases, housing grants and loans.
CNA reported in July that system glitches were behind longer processing times of up to 31 working days for flat buyers who applied for an HFE letter.
Technical problems on the HDB portal also affected a “small group” of buyers who were unable to view their applications, HDB said. This issue was resolved earlier in July.
The housing authority also assured applicants of this year’s May sales launch that HFE letter approvals, where applicable, will be granted before their flat booking appointment and their applications will not be affected.
On Wednesday, Mr Singh asked how many applicants have been affected by technical issues associated with the timely issuance of HFE letters since it became a requirement.
The Workers’ Party chief also asked what the reasons were for these issues and whether the problem has been fully resolved.
In response, Ms Sim said HDB has processed more than 50,000 applications for an HFE letter since it was implemented.
When “system errors and high application volume” occurred during the May BTO sales launch, HDB redeployed more officers to help homebuyers with flat applications that could not be successfully completed online, she added.
“At the same time, the HFE system was not yet able to handle some complexities in integrating eligibility assessments with data from various agencies, resulting in a higher-than-expected proportion of cases requiring manual intervention.”
This meant that some buyers experienced longer processing times, she said.
“HDB is working hard to process the outstanding applications as quickly as possible and we seek homebuyers’ patience and understanding,” Ms Sim told the House.
She echoed HDB’s earlier advice that prospective homebuyers should apply for their HFE letter at least a month before HDB sales exercises “to facilitate expeditious processing”, and submit the required information and supporting documents.
Mr Singh then asked once more how many applications were affected by technical issues. He also sought confirmation that no issues of such a nature will crop up during the October BTO exercise, which began on Wednesday and runs until Oct 10.
Ms Sim said it was “quite difficult to define” how many applicants were affected.
“We do know that applicants experienced longer waiting times … So we look at it in terms of the number of people who have reached out to HDB for assistance because they could not complete their applications,” she added.
Ms Sim said these buyers fell into two categories: Those who applied for resale flats, and those who urgently required their HFE applications to be completed in order to enter resale flat transactions but were not able to do so.
She noted that to HDB’s knowledge, the “transitional arrangement” in May – where buyers only needed to give an indication and intention to buy a flat, as well as undergo a preliminary HFE check – has not resulted in buyers missing out on the sales launch then.
For the October sales launch, HDB has committed to ensuring that those who submitted their HFE applications and supporting documents before the end of August would receive their HFE outcomes in time to take part in the launch, Ms Sim said.
HDB has also “carried out additional system enhancements” to ensure a smoother flat-buying process, she added.
As for how many applications took more than 21 days to process, Ms Sim said the 21 days is a “service standard”, with about 31 per cent of applications up until Sep 25 being processed within this period.
Aside from this, Ms Sim pointed to the possible impact of the delay in processing – whether or not it resulted in, for instance, applicants not being able to take part in the sales launch.
“As I’ve mentioned – because HDB has also been expediting the processing and they’ve also made accommodations on their end – to HDB’s knowledge, applicants were not made to miss out on the May BTO launch, even if they received their HFE outcomes after the 21 days,” she added.