Disaster Legal Help Victoria

Early access to superannuation

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. Once you reach age 65, you can be paid your superannuation regardless of whether you have retired.

Subject to the rules of your superannuation fund, early release of preserved superannuation benefits is permitted in some circumstances.

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 can vary between superannuation funds. You should apply directly to your fund for details.

To be eligible under this test, your superannuation fund must, as a legal minimum, 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 unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses.

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.

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.

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

Different early access rules apply if you:

  1. have reached preservation age (between 55 and 60, depending on when you were born)
  2. have been receiving eligible Commonwealth income support payments (as previously described) for a cumulative period of 39 weeks since reaching that age
  3. were not employed on a full-time or part-time basis on the date of applying for the early release of you preserved benefit.
Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960–30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961–30 June 1962 57
1 July 1963–30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963–30 June 1964 59
After 30 June 1964 60

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.

Early release on compassionate grounds

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
  • 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 Incapacity

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

Access due to a terminal medical condition

You may be able to access your super if you have a terminal medical condition.  

Other circumstances

COVID-19 early release of superannuation

If you’re adversely financially affected by COVID-19, you may be eligible to access up to $10,000 of your superannuation early.

Eligible citizens and permanent residents of Australia and New Zealand can submit one application, through ATO online services in myGov, between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2020. Applications will close at 11.59pm Australian Eastern Daylight-saving Time (AEDT) on 31 December 2020.

In addition, one of the following circumstances must apply:

  • you are unemployed
  • you are eligible to receive one of the following
    • JobSeeker payment
    • Youth Allowance for job seekers (unless you are undertaking full-time study or are a new apprentice)
    • Parenting payment (which includes the single and partnered payments)
    • Special Benefit
    • Farm Household Allowance
  • on or after 1 January 2020 either
    • you were made redundant
    • your working hours were reduced by 20% or more (including to zero)
    • you were a sole trader and your business was suspended or there was a reduction in turnover of 20% or more (partners in a partnership are not eligible unless the partner satisfies any other of the eligibility).

Applications for the 2019-20 financial year closed on 30 June 2020 – backdated applications cannot be accepted.

Only one application can be made this financial year.

Temporary residents are not eligible to apply for COVID-19 early release of super in 2020-21 financial year.

You will not need to pay tax on amounts released and will not need to include it in your tax return.

Temporary residents are not eligible to apply in the 2020-21 financial year. 

Benefit less than $200

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. For more information, including application forms, go to Early release of superannuation on the Department of Human Services 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 a modified superannuation enrolment process to facilitate the identification of lost superannuation and the consolidation of superannuation funds. Inactive, low-balance superannuation accounts are required to be reported and paid to the Australian Tax Office by your provider, and then will be proactively consolidated on your behalf.

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


Reviewed 01 December 2021