Thinking of running a home office or home-based business in Singapore from your HDB flat? You’re not alone. Tutoring, baking and offering salon services from home are becoming increasingly popular.
Running a business from the comfort of your own home can be a practical choice, especially for those who are taking small steps to test the waters of entrepreneurship or those who simply have limited capital and wish to save on operating costs.
For those living in HDB flats, restrictions on what you can and cannot do in the flat are not new. The good news is that running a home-based business in Singapore is possible from an HDB flat. However, all of HDB’s rules and regulations must be followed, and certain businesses are excluded.
The two government schemes concerning home businesses run in HDB flats are the Home Office Scheme and the Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme. Here’s a quick overview of how to run your home-based business in Singapore.
Home Office Scheme vs Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme
Home Office Scheme
Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme
Allows you to set up a home office within your HDB flat
Allows you to carry out small-scale home business from your HDB flat
Home Office Permit required (one-time)
No permit or approval required
Can hire up to two non-resident employees to work in your flat
Cannot hire additional employees
Businesses must be registered with ACRA
Next, let’s find out more about these schemes and how they affect you as an entrepreneur.
1. Home Office Scheme: What is it?
The Home Office Scheme enables you to set up a home office in an HDB flat. But wait, how is this different from just working from home?
Well, the scheme not only enables you to work from your HDB flat but also hire up to two non-resident employees. Your employees will thus have the right to work from your flat.
There are a few rules you must abide by, including the following:
- Your business activities must be confined entirely within the flat.
- Your business must not generate noise, smoke, odour, effluent or dust that could be a nuisance to your neighbours.
- Your business must not be illegal, and must not have any “bad immoral influences”. Any vice activities like gambling or prostitution will not be approved.
- You must not introduce any human or vehicular traffic to the surrounding neighbourhood.
- Your promotional activities must not annoy your neighbours or the public. So, you should not distribute flyers, sell door-to-door and so on.
- You are not allowed to display any advertisements or posters.
- Your business activities should not pose any danger to people or property.
- You must ensure that your electricity consumption and structural load do not exceed the normal residential load. You are not allowed to store any dangerous chemicals and hazardous substances.
- Your business must not negatively affect the character, ambience and environment of the residential estate.
- You must comply with all other regulations and have all the necessary licences and approvals to run your business.
The Home Office Permit is a one-time permit and lasts for as long as your business does. You do not need to reapply unless you start a new business.
You can apply for the Home Office Permit in any flat of which you are an owner, tenant or authorised occupant. However, before you can successfully apply for the permit, you need to obtain written consent from the owner if you yourself do not own the flat. So, if you are living in a flat owned by your parents or a landlord, you will need to get them to give their consent in writing.
2. Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme: What is it?
If you’ve dreamed of becoming a home baker or setting up a photography studio from your HDB flat, you might be able to do so under the Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme.
This scheme enables you to carry out small scale home-based activities to supplement your household income without the HDB’s approval.
In other words, anyone who runs a business or engages in business activities at home without a Home Office Scheme permit automatically falls under this scheme. You should not be employing anyone outside your household to work in your flat for your business.
The government will leave you in peace to run your business so long as you do not violate any of the guidelines, which include the following:
- You cannot register your flat as a business address.
- You must not adversely affect your neighbours’ living environment or cause any nuisance such as noise, smoke, odour, dust, litter or traffic.
- You must not use any heavy equipment or appliances not intended for domestic use.
- Your business activities do not require any additional workers, staff, or storage and/or movement of goods.
- You must not put up any physical or paid advertising for your business. This means you are prohibited not only from putting up signboards or posters outside the flat or on your doors and windows, but also from advertising in any other way, such as in newspapers or online.
- You must comply with all government rules and regulations. This includes food safety and hygiene regulations from the Singapore Food Agency if you are dealing with food and drinks, and Fire Safety and Shelter Department regulations to ensure your home is fire safe.
When it comes to what businesses are permissible or not, the scale of business activities is often the key here. For instance, HDB mentions that private tuition for not more than three students at a time is permitted. But if your clientele grows and the authorities are alerted by your neighbours, the HDB might tell you to stop your activities or move to a retail or industrial space.
3. What Type of HDB Home Business is Allowed?
The Home Office Scheme has a limited number of business types on its list of permitted businesses. The following businesses are eligible for the scheme:
- Accountancy services
- Architectural services
- Consultancy services (business, engineering, IT, management or education)
- Design/Advertising services
- Insurance/Financial planning services
- Real estate agencies
- Technology-based and knowledge-intensive businesses
- Trading office
Meanwhile, the following types of businesses are not eligible for a Home Office Scheme licence:
- Beauty, hairdressing or massage therapy services
- Contractors businesses
- Car trading businesses
- Card reading/palm reading or fortune-telling in any form
- Clinics and pharmacies (eg. dental, medical, veterinary)
- Commercial school (eg. dance, music, language, tuition centre)
- Courier business
- Classes on dress-making and embroidery
- Employment agency
- Funeral chapels or homes
- Maid agency
- Manufacturing, preparation or processing of any products and goods
- Money lending businesses
- Repair activities (eg. household appliances, electrical products, footwear, etc)
- Sales/marketing that involves conducting seminars and talks for large numbers of customers
- Shops and any form of retail activity, including pet shops
For businesses under the Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme, which does not require you to apply for a permit, you can run most types of businesses so long as they adhere to the guidelines (see previous section). The main exception is massage services, which are not allowed in HDB flats under any scheme.
The following are examples provided by the HDB of businesses that are permitted under the Home-Based Small Business Scheme:
- Baking on a small scale
- Hairdressing, beauty, manicure, or pedicure services
- Private tuition for not more than three students at a time
- Sewing services
- Work as a freelance artist, journalist, photographer or writer
This list is not exhaustive due to the broad ambit of the scheme.
4. Can You Run Your An HDB Home Business During COVID-19?
The recent spike in COVID-19 cases has generated renewed concern about what one can and cannot do in the pandemic.
The government requires that Safe Management Measures be observed by home-based businesses in Singapore, including limiting the number of visitors entering a household and the use of SafeEntry or TraceTogether. In particular, SafeEntry must be used to log the entry and exit of customers, clients and visitors entering the premises.
In addition, food-based home businesses must abide by the following guidelines:
- Self-collection by customers and delivery by yourself or a third-party delivery company are allowed, provided all rules are respected.
- Contactless delivery or collection must be offered with at least 1 metre maintained between the seller, delivery person and buyer. Masked must be worn during collection or pick-up.
- Customers must make appointments to collect food.
- Cashless payment methods must be used to avoid the physical exchange of cash.
- TraceTogether use is encouraged.
- SafeEntry must be used to log check-in and check-out of customers, clients and visitors entering the premises.
- Food handlers must observe food safety and hygiene practices when preparing food.
In light of the recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, we recommend that you monitor the rules closely in case of any changes to the regulations.
HDB Home Business in Singapore
The pandemic has inspired many to set up small home-based businesses in Singapore, which could be the answer to high rents and operating costs.
Operating a home-based business in an HDB flat is not difficult so long as you follow the necessary guidelines and take care not to affect your neighbours.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also take care to respect all safe-distancing measures, particularly if you have employees or clients coming to your flat.
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This article was written by Joanne Poh. A former real estate lawyer, she writes about property and personal finance and spends her free time compulsively learning languages and roller skating in carparks.