Access Super

Reporter: Gavin Alder

Australians have an estimated $1.3 trillion locked away in superannuation. That's $140,000 for every man and $70,000 for every woman. It's there to fund people in retirement but who's money is it? Most of us can't get near it until we're 65. But what if you desperately needed to access that money. Can you and is it worth it? Well as Gavin Alder investigates you can unlock your super even if the big funds don't want you to know about it.

"The stress of tough financial times, acknowledged as one of the toughest to tackle. It ends relationships .. At times lives" says Jody.

Jody McBride has lost every thing. An accident 6 months a go cost him his job, rented home, car and his prospects of future work.

To make things worse his partner Liz is 7 months pregnant and Jody at 41 is living with his mother in a caravan.

"Mums upstairs and we're virtually downstairs with the lounge room, well as you can imagine a caravans not that big of a place to be living and for the three of us it does get a bit crowded and with bubby on the way well yeah that is going to make things fun" says Jody.

After working continuously for 25 years he has three super funds on the go. In one just a few thousand dollars. Enough for a bond on a rental and for baby supplies but he can't get near it.

"Normally if you're out of work for 6 months but you can get employment you're allowed up to$10,000 after 6 months, that's what I was going to claim for and yeah I just got no leeway on it, they just won't even look at it for the 6 months" says Jody.

Melanie Smith is another asking whos money is it? And if it can keep the wolves from the door why shouldn't she be allowed to access at least some of our super early? "Its very stressing and upsetting and not knowing if we're going to be able to make ends meet each week."

CEO of the Australian Superannuation Fund Association Paul Vamos says that money is difficult to access for good reason.

"Superannuation is about funding your retirement. It's about having money in your retirement. Not to dig the irresponsible out of a financial hole of their own making - or those who face a crisis, through events they couldn't control."

Super funds will consider early access only if an individual's financial crisis is dire. Literally the last resort.

"It is a catastrophe. This is where your house is going to be sold. This is where you have become permanently and totally disabled where you can no longer work. This is where you have had an accident and one of your dependents may have had an accident and you need to do some modification to your home, where you are terminally ill" explains Paul.

"Your superannuation is your superannuation, keep track of it and if you need to access it find out and talk to experts."

Charles Page is such an expert. A superannuation white knight who knows how to untie the red tape for people in financial hardship.

'The most amount you can get under the financial hardship is 3 months of your mortgage payment and you can only get one payment per year" says Charles.

While he agrees super should be kept in tact for retirement, he argues there are circumstances when accessing some can rescue families from financial ruin.

One gentleman came to me and I was able to help him get release of his superannuation and was able to get him the maximum amount he could which was 3 months worth of mortgage payments, that was enough to keep his house and get him back in a position where he was able to get a job and keep and maintain his family home" said Charles.

It's just what Steve Stokes says he needs. "If I can find suitable employment after my next operation I could start off with an even slate, a clean slate."

The returned serviceman, served for nine months in East Timor at the time of the new country's independence when hostilities were at their worst.

But a deteriorating back condition forced him out of the military in 2006 and he's had trouble finding work since.

"Its very hard to find work you know because if you tell the employer from a start that you have back conditions, they normally run a country mile and now facing further surgery and that its pretty hard to find work" says Steve.

He wants part of his military super to pay off debts .. Get his finances in order .. So he can better manage on his welfare payments until his next operation after which he can look for employment.

But military super is stonewalling on the basis he is not totally and permanently disabled.

"I don't know if it's the too hard basket but I think its military super saying this is our money and our release criteria is this and then you don't meet it exactly so you don't get the funds and that's all there is to it."

Charles page's super powers are limited but these are the boxes you need to tick before you're a chance:

1. First contact your bank to see if there is some other way to avoid going further into default.

2. Gather evidence like letters from your bank saying your situation is desperate.

3. Show evidence of being on centrelink payments for 9 months.

4. Seek advice from your super fund directly or through a licence financial adviser.

5. If unhappy with the response you can appeal to apra - the superannuation complaints tribunal or through insurance and superannuation ombudsman.

While the number of applications is rising, there are no thoughts of making super easier to access .. For very good reason .. It's a nest egg that can't be glued back together once it's broken.

"Once you're retired it's very hard to earn more income" says Paul Vamos.

For more information visit the following websites:

§ www.apra.gov.au/Superannuation/Other-Grounds-for-EROB.cfm

§ www.apra.gov.au/Superannuation/Early-Release-of-Superannuation-Benefits.cfm Page Powers Financial Group

Charles

Tel: (07) 3251 4444