Singapore

105,500 households take up elder-friendly scheme

What began as a routine trip to the bathroom a year ago ended in agony for Mr Sim Kok Keng.

The 72-year-old Woodlands resident heard a "crack" and felt a sharp pain when he stood up after using the toilet in his flat. Doctors later said that his left heel bone had split open.

While the retired vegetable seller had always found it difficult to walk after contracting polio as a child, the injury made it even tougher.

But a recent flat upgrading provided timely assistance.

Mr Sim and his wife Jenny Koh, 64, were one of 105,500 households which applied for the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme as of last month.

The scheme, launched in July 2012, allows flat owners to equip their homes with elder-friendly fittings like grab bars, slip resistant tiles and ramps, especially in areas like bathrooms.

The HDB said 42,200 households have applied for Ease directly, while another 63,300, including the Sims, opted for it through the Home Improvement Programme (HIP).

"It's much more convenient to go to the toilet now," said Mr Sim, who moves around with the aid of a walking stick.

Madam Koh added: "Grab bars are much safer and the ramps also have a good grip which is good as the toilet floor is usually wet."

Introduced in 2007, HIP helps residents address common maintenance problems related to ageing flats, such as spalling concrete and the replacement of pipe sockets with new laundry drying racks.

These "essential" improvements are fully paid for by the Government. Optional components under the scheme include those under Ease, as well as toilet upgrades, a new front door, gate and refuse chute hopper, which the Sims also opted for.

The Government subsidises between 87.5 per cent and 95 per cent of the cost of these optional improvements for Singapore citizen households, with more help given to smaller flats.

While the Ease budget per flat is $2,500, these households pay only between $125 and $312.50, depending on the flat type.

Only flats built up to 1986 that have not undergone the Main Upgrading Programme are eligible for HIP.

Works begin when at least 75 per cent of a block's eligible households have voted in favour of the programme.

The scheme has proven popular, with an average support level of 90.1 per cent based on a poll, the HDB said.

About 220,000 flats have been announced for HIP and a total of 74,000 flats have been upgraded. Works are still in progress for another 93,000 flats.

As of March this year, about $1.47 billion has been spent on HIP and $30 million on Ease. Another $464 million is expected to be spent on HIP and $19 million on Ease by next March.

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