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Singapore studying possible law change on renovation fraud

Singapore studying possible law change on renovation fraud

File photo of a house undergoing renovation. (Photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is studying if there is scope to amend existing laws to make it easier to establish fraud in cases where renovation works are not carried out.

In response to a parliamentary question by MP Murali Pillai (PAP-Bukit Batok) on renovation fraud, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said in a written answer on Monday (Jul 4) that the police investigated 100 cases involving errant renovation contractors between 2019 and 2021. 

So far, 72 of these cases have been prosecuted in court, he said, adding that the ministry is unable to provide details of cases that happened this year as investigations are ongoing.

Mr Shanmugam said that renovation fraud generally involves contractors getting victims to make payment for promised renovation works, which are either partially completed or not carried out at all.

"In most of these cases, the contractors become uncontactable after collecting payment, or provide excuses to explain why they were unable to complete the promised works," he said.

Contractors who deceive victims into placing deposits without any intent to carry out renovation works can be charged with cheating offences under section 420 of the Penal Code.

"In some cases there could be genuine business distress, and the contractor may not have been able to do the work," said Mr Shanmugam.

"Further, where the economic situation changes suddenly, for example during the COVID-19 pandemic, some contractors might find themselves unable to fulfil their contracts.

"In each case, the question is whether there was fraudulent intent. Some other cases may involve fraudulent intent, but it may be very difficult to prove that in court."

He has asked MHA to study if there is scope to amend the law to make it easier to establish fraud in such cases, said Mr Shanmugam.

The minister added that it can be difficult to recover the money lost in such scams, even if the culprit goes to jail, as they may no longer have the money.

He advised homeowners to engage contractors with a good track record, such as those accredited under the joint accreditation between the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) and Singapore Renovation Contractors.

In February this year, the owner of a renovation firm pleaded guilty to 29 charges, mostly for cheating. Chan Chee Kuen, 49, cheated 110 people of S$247,400 in refurbishment works and also targeted blocks selected by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for the Home Improvement Programme.

Last year, the number of complaints against renovation contractors jumped by almost 50 per cent. Nearly half of the complaints were about unsatisfactory workmanship or contractors failing to complete projects on time, data from CASE showed.

The consumer watchdog said it received about 1,300 complaints against home renovation contractors in 2021.

The increase in complaints was attributed to the prolonged shortage in manpower and raw materials arising from continued border restrictions due to COVID-19, pent-up demand in the residential property market, as well as a corresponding demand for home renovation last year. 

Source: CNA/hm(mi)

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