Guide to Home Office Scheme (HDB/Private Property) in Singapore
You'll need a licence under this scheme to run certain businesses from home.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need much convincing of the benefits of running a business from home.
Not having to squeeze with the peak hour traffic, being able to work in your pyjamas…and you also save on office rental! What’s not to love?
And setting up your home office – whether in an HDB flat, or private property – is not difficult at all. It all starts with applying for a licence under the Home Office Scheme.
Getting this licence is a piece of cake, because it’s done online and approved instantly. The application fees are low too!
Read on to learn more about the Home Office Scheme, the eligibility criteria and how to apply for the licence.
- What is the Home Office Scheme?
- Eligibility Criteria for the Home Office Scheme
- How to Apply for a Home Office Scheme Licence
- You’ve Gotten Your Home Office Scheme Licence! What’s Next?
What is the Home Office Scheme?
The Home Office Scheme is a licensing scheme that allows individuals to set up a home office for certain small-scale registered business. The scheme is overseen by the Housing Development Board (HDB) for HDB flats, and by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for private property.
The businesses that have been approved for the Home Office Scheme include:
- Accountancy services
- Consultancy services (e.g. business, IT, management, education)
- Design/advertising services
- Real estate agencies
- Transportation services
- Technology-based/knowledge-intensive businesses
These are usually businesses run by self-employed individuals who hire very few staff, and don’t meet clients at their homes.
On the other hand, businesses such as the following cannot be registered under the Home Office Scheme:
- Retail shops
- Commercial schools (e.g. tuition centre or music school)
- Food catering or restaurants
- Sales/marketing workshops for large customer numbers
- Hairdressing or massage therapy services
- Fortune telling (e.g. card or palm reading)
- Manufacturing of goods
Your home address can still be listed as the registered address for these businesses, and you can still do admin tasks for them from your house. But you cannot actually carry out your business from there. This means no allowing of clients or customers into your house.
What’s the difference between the Home Office Scheme and the Home-Based Business Scheme?
To recap, the Home Office Scheme is for individuals to get a licence to run an approved small business from home.
However, you may have come across another government scheme called the Home-Based Business Scheme. This scheme allows individuals to carry out certain business activities from their home, without a licence.
Examples of such allowed businesses are small-scale baking, private tuition (for up to 3 students), hairdressing and working as a freelance writer or photographer.
Eligibility Criteria for the Home Office Scheme
Apart from ensuring that your business is approved for the Home Office Scheme, you will also need fulfil certain eligibility criteria. Here are some of the main ones:
- You (the business owner) are at least 18 years old and are the flat owner, authorised occupier or tenant of the property
- Only up to 2 non-resident employees can work from your house
- You have to keep your business small-scale and not carry out activities that could annoy your neighbours
- Your business has been registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (unless it is exempted from registration)
- You have obtained all other relevant licences and approvals for your business
- You need to minimally keep an 8A/34B ABC Dry Chemical Powder fire extinguisher and a single-station smoke detector in the office area
How to Apply for a Home Office Scheme Licence
To apply for your Home Office Scheme licence, head over to the GoBusiness Licensing website, which is the one-stop government licensing portal.
Check that you’re applying for your licence under the right government agency. If you live in an HDB flat, you’ll need to apply for the licence from the HDB. On the other hand, if you live in private property, you should be applying to the URA for this licence.
The application might take around 20 to 30 minutes to complete. It basically involves you providing information on yourself and your business, and where you live. There are no long essay questions such as “Why do you want to work from home?”
After you have made payment, your application will be approved immediately. Whoo!
If you are engaging a third-party filer (e.g. a corporate secretary) to apply to the HDB for a Home Office Scheme licence on your behalf, you will need to provide the filer with a signed Letter of Authorisation.
Otherwise, no supporting documents are required to register for the Home Office Scheme (for both HDB and URA). HDB or URA will contact you if they need extra info from you.
The application fee is $20, payable by a Visa or MasterCard credit card.
Apart from a possible licence renewal fee (which is also $20), there are no other licensing charges. Talk about getting a sweet deal on office space rental!
Special notes if you are applying to the HDB
If you are an HDB tenant, you do not apply through GoBusiness Licensing. Instead, you need to:
- Get the flat owner(s) to sign a declaration consenting for their flat to be used as a home office
- Fill in a hardcopy Home Office Scheme application
- Submit both documents to the HDB Branch that is managing the flat (you can find out which branch is managing the flat here)
The relevant documents can be found on this HDB webpage.
Special notes if you are applying to the URA
If you have a company and are applying to the URA, you’ll need to log into GoBusiness Licensing using your SingPass account as an individual instead of as a business user.
Also, the applicant type should be “Occupant” instead of “Owner”. (This option appears on the second page of the application form.)
Finally, if you are not the property owner, you will need to get the owner’s written consent for you to use the property as a home office before you apply for the licence.
You’ve Gotten Your Home Office Scheme Licence! What’s Next?
Conditions to be complied with
After obtaining your Home Office Scheme licence, you will need to comply with the conditions of the licence in order to keep it.
These conditions include:
- Not putting up any business or advertising signs outside your house
- Not causing any nuisance to your neighbours (e.g. carrying out business that emits excessive smoke, dust or noise, or distributing flyers)
- Ensuring that your business doesn’t consume more electricity than what is normal for a home to consume
- Not causing extra human or vehicular traffic to come to your neighbourhood for whatever reason
All these conditions basically drive home the point that your house is meant to be a place for living in, and not a full-fledged commercial space. You should not be turning your house into a shop where customers can freely walk in and out of to buy your stuff, for example.
If your business gives your neighbours reason to complain, HDB or URA may revoke your Home Office Scheme licence.
Validity of the Home Office Scheme licence
Home Office Scheme licences are valid for the whole duration of your business. No renewal is needed.
Terminating your Home Office Scheme licence
You’ll need to inform HDB if you intend to terminate your Home Office Scheme licence.
On the other hand, you don’t need to inform URA if you live in private property and want to terminate your Home Office Scheme licence—your house will revert to residential use automatically.
To inform HDB of the termination of your licence, submit an e-feedback form, choosing “Living in an HDB Flat”, “Other Lease Matters” and “Starting a Home Office” as the subject, category and sub-category respectively.
Regardless of whether you live in an HDB flat or private property, however, you will of course have to stop using your house as an office if you terminate your Home Office Scheme licence.
You will also need to update ACRA of your change in business address (if you are changing offices instead of stopping business entirely).
Start setting up your home office!
Getting your Home Office Scheme licence is not the end of the story. It’s only just the beginning for your home office – and for your business.
For example, you may want to deck out your new home office with furniture and fittings to make it a conducive space for working from.
If you have children, you may need to set house rules so they don’t enter your office without permission and mess it up, or disturb you during your office hours.
Finally, remember that being able to have a home office is a privilege, not a right! Be sure to keep within the boundaries of the Home Office Scheme licence, so your neighbours don’t have any cause to complain. After all, you don’t want your licence to be taken away from you.