Can I access my superannuation benefits?

Your superannuation is generally preserved until you retire from the workforce. A person's preservation age ranges from 55 to 60, depending on their date of birth. (Visit the Australian Taxation Office website for more information on the preservation age). However, subject to the rules of your superannuation fund, early release of preserved superannuation benefits is permitted in some circumstances. These are discussed below.

How do I qualify to access my superannuation?

In order to qualify for early access to superannuation, the trustee of your superannuation fund must be satisfied that you meet one of the following tests.

Severe financial hardship

Requirements for demonstrating severe financial hardship vary between superannuation funds; you should apply directly to your fund for details.

Usually, to be eligible under this test your superannuation fund must be satisfied that:

  1. if you are below your preservation age, you have received eligible Commonwealth income support payments for a continuous period of 26 weeks;
  2. you are still receiving the payments on the date you obtain a letter from Centrelink or the Department of Veterans' Affairs stating this; and
  3. you are unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses.

If your superannuation fund is satisfied that you meet these criteria and agrees to release your superannuation early, you may obtain a one-off payment of between $1,000 and $10,000 in any one 12-month period. If you have less than $1,000 in superannuation, you may access the whole amount. Please note that there may be tax consequences if you seek to access your superannuation early.

To support your application, you can ask for a confirmation letter from any Centrelink office or you can contact Centrelink directly. The confirmation letter is only valid for 21 days. Alternatively, you can authorise your superannuation fund to check your eligibility using Centrelink’s Customer Confirmation eService.

Early release of superannuation may have an impact on the benefits you or your partner receive from Centrelink. The fund trustee may charge you fees for the early release, and the money released may also be taxed.

Eligible income support payments

Not all social security or family support payments qualify as Commonwealth income support payments. The following benefits are excluded:

  • Family Tax Benefits;
  • Child Care Benefits;
  • Youth Allowance (full-time study);
  • Abstudy Benefits; 
  • Austudy Benefits.

In general, other income support supplements, service pensions, social security pensions or social security benefits should qualify. Centrelink can tell you whether your payments comply.

Centrelink and the Department of Veterans' Affairs provide standard letters which verify to your superannuation fund that you have received the appropriate payments for the required time. Letters are no longer valid after 21 days from the date on them.

In receipt of payments on the date of letter

You must still be receiving the payments on the date of the letter from Centrelink or the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Unable to meet family living expenses

If you have received support payments for the required time, you must then show that you are 'unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses'. Please note that early release can only be for unpaid expenses. If you used a loan or a credit card, or borrowed money from family or friends to pay the expense, it is considered paid, and the eligibility requirement for early access has not been met.

Ultimately, whether you can be regarded as being unable to meet your family living expenses is a decision for the trustee of your superannuation fund. Most superannuation funds have a form and statutory declaration that they will require you to fill in to show your financial circumstances.

In order to make this decision, your superannuation fund will probably request details of your family income, your assets and your expenses.

Aged over preservation age

An alternative entitlement to early access exists if you:

  1. have reached preservation age (between 55 and 60, depending on when you were born) plus 39 weeks;
  2. have been receiving eligible Commonwealth income support payments (as described above) for a cumulative period of 39 weeks since reaching that age; and
  3. are unemployed or employed for less than 10 hours per week.

If you satisfy these tests there is no need for the trustee to enquire into your financial circumstances and there is no limit to the amount of superannuation that may be released.

Other circumstances

There are some other circumstances where you will be able to access your superannuation early. These include:

  • if you have certain medical expenses (including if you need modifications to your home or vehicle due to a severe disability);
  • the need to make mortgage repayments to prevent your mortgagee from selling your home;
  • if you or a dependant require palliative care; or
  • for the payment of funeral expenses of a dependant.

You will only be able to access your superannuation on these grounds if you could not afford to meet the expense without some or all of your superannuation.

Temporary or permanent disability may also be grounds for seeking access to superannuation in some circumstances.

You may also access your superannuation if your preserved benefit is less than $200 (if your employment has been terminated) and your superannuation account is no longer active.

Applications on these grounds must be made to the Commonwealth Department of Human Services. More information, including application forms, can be found on their website.

Please note that even if you obtain approval from the Department of Human Services, your superannuation fund will only release those benefits it is entitled to release under its own rules.

 

What if I don’t know where my superannuation is?

The Australian Taxation Office keeps a Lost Members Register. This can be searched online via the Australian Taxation Office's website or by calling 13 28 61.

 

Need further assistance?

For more information on early release of superannuation benefits, please contact the Commonwealth the Department of Human Services on 1300 131 060.

Changes to the identification and consolidation of lost superannuation have been implemented as part of the Government’s SuperStream reforms. These include the automatic consolidation of inactive accounts and a modified superannuation enrolment process to facilitate the identification of lost superannuation and the consolidation of superannuation funds.

Implementation for large and medium employers (with 20 or more employees) commenced on 1 July 2014 and was completed last year. All small employers (with fewer than 20 employees) were required to implement the new processes by 30 June 2016 but have been granted “compliance flexibility” until 28 October 2016. All super funds, including self-managed super funds, have since 1 July 2014 been required to be able to receive contributions in the new standard. 

For more information about tracking and consolidating your superannuation, visit the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Money Smart website.