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Accessing superannuation

Superannuation is designed to provide for your retirement, so you can generally only access it when you reach age 65. However, there are some very limited circumstances where it may be available earlier.

Between ages 55-65, special arrangements apply, depending on your age and personal circumstances. You need to obtain personal advice in this regard and you should approach your superannuation fund for guidance.

Prior to age 55, you can only access your superannuation in very limited circumstances, as follows. 

  1. If you have a terminal medical condition or are permanently incapacitated, you can apply to your super fund to access your benefits regardless of your age. You will need to meet all the requirements set out by your superannuation fund. This includes providing two medical certificates worded in the approved form.
  2. If you have been on Centrelink benefits for six months or more and can prove you are experiencing severe financial hardship, you can apply to your super fund for an amount up to $10,000. You will need a certificate from Centrelink to support your application.
  3. If your superannuation includes insurance cover you may be able to take this as an income. Talk to your superannuation fund to discuss your options.
  4. You may also be able to apply to the Australian government Department of Human Services for a release on compassionate grounds. These are:
  • to pay for medical or dental treatment for you or a dependent, which is not available in the public health system;
  • to pay for transport to and from medical treatment for a life-threatening illness;
  • to prevent your home being sold by the lender that has a mortgage over it;
  • to modify your home or vehicle to accommodate your own needs or the needs of a dependent in the case of severe disability;
  • to pay for palliative care;
  • to pay for funeral expenses.

Applications have to be prepared carefully, with attention to accuracy and ensuring all the necessary attachments are included. Where medical certificates are required, these must include the exact wording stipulated in the documents.

Initial information may be obtained from your superannuation fund. Assistance in completing the application may be available from the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Support Services staff or from financial counselors. (See ‘Organisations that can help’ section.)

Careful study of your last annual superannuation statement will usually enable you to determine what, if any, insurance benefits you may be entitled to.

The Financial Planning Association of Australia can put you in contact with a financial planner, and if you are struggling financially, you can request pro bono financial advisce through their network: www.fpa.com.au or 1300 626 393.