Banking help for ex-offenders on the way

Banking help for ex-offenders on the way

He spent five weeks in jail last April for illegal moneylending activities.

When Mr Toh, who declined to give his full name, left the prison last May and tried to open a bank account, he was turned down by two banks on the spot.

The 34-year-old said this was probably because he had given his previous account to loansharks to carry out illegal activities.

Member of Parliament (MP) Irene Ng had him in mind when she filed a question last month in Parliament to ask the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) if it could work with banks to help open accounts for convicts who are due to leave the prison.

Ms Ng, an MP for Tampines GRC, told The Straits Times that, like Mr Toh, several residents who were former offenders had told her about their problems with opening bank accounts.

But they may soon get help.

The Singapore Prison Service and Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises are working with banks to look into possibly waiving the minimum deposit requirements for opening bank accounts and other measures to help former offenders released recently.

They told The Straits Times in a joint statement earlier this month that more details will be announced when ready, but urged employers to continue to hire and support former offenders.

"Having a bank account would make it more convenient for both employers and ex-offenders," they said in the joint statement.

They do not have the numbers on former convicts seeking help for such issues.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean, in response to Ms Ng's question in Parliament, said that some inmates or former offenders may be unable to open bank accounts as they cannot meet the minimum deposits set by banks, or are deemed a "credit risk".

The Industrial and Services Co-operative Society, which supports former offenders and their families, said it is important for former convicts to have "equal benefits and privileges that the average Singaporean has". "It is important as they have paid for their punishments in serving time in prison," said a spokesman.

Ms Ng said of the cases she came across: "These cases made me worry - if all banks go this way, then how will ex-offenders affected find a job with an employer that requires a bank account for his salary?

"How will they get a fresh start? A bank account is a necessity for daily life in Singapore."

When asked, a DBS spokesman said DBS and POSB banks do not as a rule reject account applications from former offenders. "(But) all account applications received are subject to our usual regulatory and policy checks," she added.

As for OCBC, its head of deposits Ling Seng Chuan said: "We assess each application for account opening on a case-by-case basis, based on our risk assessment of the prospective customer's background and profile."

Meanwhile, UOB said it does not discriminate against former offenders, and they can open an account if their "necessary documentation is in order".

Mr Toh finally opened a bank account with UOB in January with Ms Ng's help. Now a full-time driver, he said: "I made a stupid mistake... But I really hope banks will allow us to have an account because most employers will deposit your salary into it. When we are being discriminated, it impedes us from starting afresh."

This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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