NOT ALL workers earning below the ceiling of $1,900 a month get help from the Workfare scheme started in 2007 to supplement low-wage workers' income.

Some 20,000 of them earn less than that amount, but do not qualify because they own more than one property or their spouses earn more than $70,000 a year.

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board disclosed the figure for the first time in reply to queries from The Straits Times last week.

These workers have been excluded from Workfare after the criteria of the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme was tightened last year.

"The tightening of the WIS criteria was to ensure they are focused on low-income households," said the CPF Board.

When Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the additional eligibility criteria in his annual Budget Statement last February, he said these better-off individuals "are not the target of the WIS scheme".

The CPF board said 408,000 workers received Workfare payments for work done last year, down from 420,000 in 2012.

But despite fewer workers, the total Workfare amount handed out rose from $459 million in 2012 to $628 million last year. The CPF Board said that this is because the payout ceilings have risen by between $350 and $700 per worker.

Under the scheme, workers earning $1,900 and below each month receive income supplements of up to $3,500 a year, depending on age. Older workers receive more.

Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari supports the tighter Workfare criteria. “It ensures that Workfare goes to those who really need the extra help.”

He added: “Some might be earning below $1,900 per month, but they are not necessarily low- income families.”

One of those who did not receive Workfare this year was 74-year-old Koh Tiong Hai. The part-time airport wheelchair porter earns between $700 and $800 a month and received quarterly Workfare payments last year. The payments stopped this year.

The retired hospital technician lives in a four-room flat in Tampines – his only property – with his wife who works as a part-time nurse earning about $4,000 each month. He is considering an appeal.

“In the beginning, they said you work, you will be paid (Workfare) and they don’t consider your spouse... If you are entitled to (Workfare), you should receive it,” he said.