SINGAPORE: Some individuals with life and health insurance have started enquiring about how to defer payments for their policy premiums, days after that option was announced by the authorities.

Great Eastern told CNA on Friday (Apr 3) that it has heard from about 200 policyholders with such requests, while Aviva noted about 50 queries as of Thursday evening.

This comes after the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Tuesday said holders of life and health insurance policies will be allowed to defer premium payments for up to six months, while maintaining insurance coverage.

READ: Individuals can apply to defer property loan, insurance premium payments amid COVID-19: MAS

This measure, part of a package meant to help individuals with cash flow pressures during the COVID-19 outbreak, is available for those with a policy renewal or premium due date between Apr 1 and Sep 30.

It is not automatic, however, and those interested will have to apply with their life insurers, MAS said.

Since the announcement, various insurers have confirmed that they are offering a six-month extension for those whose incomes have been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

One of them is Great Eastern, the insurance arm of OCBC, which said its Deferment of Premium Payment Programme is meant to ease the financial burden of customers and help the tide through the virus outbreak.

To be eligible, the insurer will be looking at whether the policyholder has lost his job or had monthly income reduced due to COVID-19, as well as the existence of any outstanding premium as of the date of application.

“To ensure that we give this immediate priority, we have set up dedicated resources to manage these requests and will endeavour to support as many of our affected customers as possible,” said Mr Patrick Kok, managing director of group operations at Great Eastern.

Applications will be responded within three working days, he added

At Aviva Singapore, policyholders can apply for a deferment if they have been retrenched or put on extended no-pay leave, and experienced an income drop. Those who are paying hospital bills for themselves or immediate family members undergoing COVID-19 treatments will also be eligible.

“There is no limit on the number of Aviva policies they can seek deferment for,” said a spokesperson, who noted that the company has received about 20 queries on this “since a couple of weeks ago”.

Following the MAS announcement on Tuesday evening, it received about 40 to 50 more of such queries.

AIA Singapore said its policyholders may apply for the six-month deferment by completing a form, which has been available on its website from Apr 3.

“After submission, our customers will be informed via mail on the status of their application,” said a spokesperson, adding that applicants can also obtain an e-copy of the notification letter via the insurer’s app or from their agent.

Those eligible for this support programme include self-employed persons working in hard-hit industries like aviation and tourism, people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, as well as “other reasons as assessed at the discretion by AIA as appropriate”, said a spokesperson.

During the six-month grace period, AIA Singapore will continue to provide insurance coverage and honour any claims made “in accordance with the existing terms and conditions of the policy in question”.

No interest will be levied on premiums that are not paid during the extended grace period, it added.

Meanwhile, Prudential Singapore’s chief executive Dennis Tan said in an emailed reply: “We want to provide support to customers who may find themselves in financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Noting that insurance is “a financial safety net in times of crisis” for many of Prudential’s customers, he said an extension in premium payments can hopefully help customers to have a “peace of mind knowing that their protection and health needs will continue to be met”. 

Both AIA and Prudential did not reveal how many queries or applications they have received when contacted.

The package of relief measures announced by MAS also allows home owners facing financial pressure due to COVID-19 to apply to defer repayments for their residential property loans until Dec 31 this year.

Individuals with unsecured loans can also opt to convert their outstanding balances into term loans at a reduced interest rate, capped at 8 per cent. This is much lower than the 26 per cent typically charged on credit cards. 

Interested applicants can approach their respective banks from Apr 6.

There were also relief measures for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support them with continued access to bank credit and insurance cover.

Aviva Singapore, for instance, said SME owners facing financial strain can apply for a three-month premium payment deferment relating to commercial or employee insurance policies.

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MAS on Friday urged those applying for these financial relief measures to contact their financial service providers through phone or email, instead of visiting the premises of these financial institutions.

This as Singapore announced several enhanced measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, including having schools move to full home-based learning from Apr 8.

READ: COVID-19: Singapore makes ‘decisive move’ to close most workplaces and impose full home-based learning for schools, says PM Lee

READ: Essential businesses will stay open even as most workplaces are to close from next Tuesday

Most workplaces will also be closed from Apr 7, except essential services such as healthcare, transport, food and beverage (F&B), as well as banking and finance.

Insurers said essential services including claim submission and approvals, policy renewals and new applications, will continue despite the enhanced measures.

Customer service centres will remain open but only on an appointment basis, said Great Eastern and AIA Singapore, while urging customers to defer non-urgent visits to their premises.

Instead, they can call the service hotlines, tap on online services such as email or mobile applications, or contact their insurance agents if they require assistance.

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