Singapore COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act
The global pandemic has cost every individual a sum – monetary or not. For some of us, it is the liberty to freely socialize with our family and friends. For others, it is a job opportunity. But, for many businesses, the global pandemic has surely threatened their survival. Fortunately, for many Singaporean companies, the Singapore Parliament has passed the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act to alleviate the economic impact on its companies while seeking to protect and assist vulnerable businesses to focus on rebuilding and recovering.
In summary, the Act brings into force the following temporary measures:
- Suspend contractual obligations for certain types of contracts
- Provide relief to financially distressed individuals, businesses and firms
- Offer alternative arrangements for the conduct of company meetings
- Initiate remote communications technology measures to keep courts functioning
- Restrict some activities that the general public can exercise
- Enhance rental relief for Small and Medium Enterprises
How does Singapore COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act help your business?
While the uncertain economic impact may threaten the vulnerability of your business, you can certainly expect to benefit from some of these temporary reliefs.
The unprecedented economic shock may have resulted in the failure of your contractual obligations’ fulfilment. Not to worry though, the provisions in the Singapore COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act covers such unfortunate cases and will provide you with temporary relief from legal actions that may come your way for failing to perform certain contracts because of the pandemic.
Specifically, these measures will apply to contractual obligations that are set to be performed on or after 1 February 2020 and for contracts that were entered into before 25 March 2020. The provision provides you with a caveat for six months, starting from 20 April 2020 to 19 October 2020 and can be extended for up to a year. Hence, you will be entitled to a defence tool when it comes to the payment of a cancellation fee. This is provided under the condition that the pandemic has materially caused you the inability to commit and perform the obligation as previously contracted. As such, the contracting party will not be able to commence legal actions. These actions include but are not limited to starting or continuing court proceedings or insolvency proceedings, enforcing security, terminating lease, repossessing any goods as well as forfeiting prior deposits given.
In general, the relief is available and protects:
- loans by banks and finance companies to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) secured against commercial or industrial immovable property or plant, machinery or fixed assets which are used for manufacturing, production or other business purposes in Singapore;
- construction contracts or supply contracts
- event or tourism-related contracts
- hire-purchase agreements or conditional sales agreements for plant or machinery used for commercial purposes or commercial vehicles
- leases or licenses of non-residential property
Additionally, financially distressed businesses will be relieved from any bankruptcy and insolvency applications. This will be achieved by the legal regulation to enhance monetary requirement for filing any corporate insolvency proceedings from $10,000 previously to $100,000. Furthermore, under the temporary measure, the time period to satisfy a statutory demand from creditors has been increased from 21 days previously to six months.
Rental fees contribute to a large proportion of business operations costs. In this unprecedented situation painted by the pandemic, the Government recognized the need to adopt targeted steps to assist SMEs that are especially vulnerable now. As such, a rental relief framework was introduced to provide aid for this group of companies. The Singapore COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act seeks to assist affected SMEs who are in the process of recovering from the pandemic-led economic shock by co-sharing rental obligations between the Government, landlords and tenants.
Specifically, the measures aim to relieve rental payments, late payment interest and protect tenants who are unable to vacate business premises. To qualify for this scheme, you should not have more than $100 million in annual turnover and should possess qualifying leases commencing before 25 March 2020. In rough estimation, the Government will be providing two months’ relief of the rental costs. This will be achieved by uniting both the Fortitude Budget that will provide additional cash grants as well as the Property Tax Rebate granted in the Resilience Budget. Putting the mathematics into words, the Government will provide an equivalent of approximately two months of rent for qualifying commercial properties and one month of rent for industrial and office properties. For tenants in qualifying commercial properties, this rental waiver will apply specifically to April and May 2020. While, for tenants in industrial or office properties, this rental waiver will apply only to April 2020.
In this co-sharing initiative, landlords are encouraged to collaborate with the Government to provide additional rental relief. If you own an SME that has been incurring a significant drop in average monthly revenue, you will be entitled to receive an additional two months’ waiver of base rental for your commercial properties. For business operations located in industrial and office properties, you can also receive an additional one month’s waiver of base rental. Specifically, this scheme is applicable to June and July 2020 rental payment for commercial property tenants and May 2020 for industrial or office property tenants.
Nonetheless, if repaying your rental debts is a concern, the repayment scheme is something you should look out for. This prescribed scheme is mainly applicable to a specified portion of rental debts that has been accumulated from 1 February till 19 October 2020. The scheme mandates that tenants are to make payment of the first installment before 1 November 2020. Interests will be capped at 3% per annum.
With movement controls imposed, vacating business premises are more challenging in present times. In such situations, the relief will seek to assist tenants who are incapable of vacating from the business premises after the end of their lease and before 19 October 2020. Tenants are to serve a notification on the landlord that will relieve any legal liability for failing to vacate.
Does Your Business Qualify?
The temporary relief provisions, while helpful, are only applicable to selected businesses. It is important that you clarify the eligibility of your company before applying. The Relief Measures generally apply to contractual obligations after 1 February 2020, for contracts that were otherwise entered or renewed before 25 March 2020. One important condition when applying is that you will have to highlight how the unforeseeable pandemic is the main cause of your business’s inability to fulfilling the contracts.
While the measures are certainly a relief for many of us, it is also critical for you to note that the Act does not absolve you from your obligations to pay rent. It only acts as a protection from potential legal actions that may commence against you by your landlords.
The myriad of requirements may be confusing. Attaining a comprehensive understanding and gauging your company’s eligibility may be challenging. Thankfully, the Ministry of Law’s forward planning ability has led to the development of an easy and convenient tool. The tool serves as a quick self-assessment check online. By featuring a series of questions, the tool will seek to understand your business and thereby, provide you with relevant advice.
How to Apply?
Generally, all parties are encouraged to negotiate with each other to resolve the matter before seeking relief. If you however still require legal protection or is incapable of reaching a mutual agreement, parties can seek to obtain relief under the Singapore COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act. Before you apply, it is important to verify that you are eligible.
Upon which, you will have to serve a Notification for Relief on the other party of the contract, any guarantor or surety for the obligation in the contract and the issuer of a performance bond where it is a construction or supply contract. In simplified terms, a Notification for Relief is a dispute resolution process that end-goal is to provide businesses short term assistance. The Notification for Relief will require you to provide a brief explanation of how the pandemic has led to your inability to pay commercial rent and propose a separate mechanism to repay any rental debts. This application can be done online through an electronic system, simplifying and speeding up the whole process.
Where disputes do arise and are captured by the Ministry of Law, an assessor will be appointed to manage the conflict. Generally, these disagreements can be formed out of determining whether the pandemic was the main cause of one’s non-compliance with the contract. The Panel of Assessors for Covid-19 Temporary Relief will decide on a just and equitable manner whether the non-contracting party should be entitled to the relief measures prescribed or that the protection is undeserving and should be lifted. If the dispute is ruled in the landlord’s favor, he or she can proceed to commence legal proceedings.
This process may be cumbersome and time-consuming. Hence, it is generally advised that you should negotiate and come to a compromise with your landlord instead.
The Challenge Against Covid-19
As the Minister for Law, K Shanmugam nicely sums it up during his 7 April interview with CNBC:
“You’re looking at economic devastation. Businesses destroyed, people’s lives ruined, and in such a situation, you don’t talk contract. You talk equity, you talk justice, you talk about what is the right thing to do.”, the ill impacts of Covid-19 will or may have already severely affected many businesses. In times like this, we have to join forces as a community to fight collectively against Covid-19. It is no longer simply an issue of a landlord vis-à-vis a tenant, rather, us vis-à-vis Covid-19. Whether we succeed in this fight can only be determined by our unity and resilience.
How Tetra Consultants play our part?
During this challenging period, Tetra Consultants is providing our COVID-19 Support Package for Singapore companies. We will be introducing revised corporate secretarial package fees for all Singapore companies in the month of July 2020.
As a licensed company in Singapore, this is to ensure we stick to our roots and provide as much value as possible to our trusted clients.
If you are a business owner with an existing Singapore company, the Support Package may be of interest to you. This allows you to stay compliant with all Singapore regulations while enjoying the services of a highly responsive and capable team.
If your business is looking to cut costs during this period, feel free to contact us for a non-obligatory consultation. One of our experts will be in touch with you within 1 business day.