Q: I am 57 years old. Apparently you can get a lump sum of super before 60 if you have permanently retired. Can you still later look for work again? How do you prove you have permanently retired?
A: The question that you ask is in the top 10 questions that we receive at SuperGuide. The term ‘retirement’ and what that means for accessing super can mean many different things.
The short answer to your question is: generally yes, you can return to work after retiring, but at the time of retiring, the intention to retire must have been genuine. I explain this in more detail later in the response.
In the olden days, most women ‘retired’ when they married and men retired only when they turned 65. Indeed, until the 1980s, women could access their super benefits when they left work to have children because the presumption was that these women would never return to the workforce.
The world had changed a lot since then, and the concept of ‘retirement’ is now more fluid. Confusion over when someone is considered ‘retired’ has prompted dozens of questions from readers about retirement age, super access and returning to work after retiring. In this article, I answer the following three questions:
- Can I retire at any age?
- Can I return to work after retiring?
- Can I access my preserved benefits if I’m still working?
Can I retire at any age?
An individual can retire at any age if they so wish, but for the purposes of accessing super benefits, you must have reached your preservation age and retired. For anyone born before 1 July 1960, preservation age is 55. What this means is that a person who has retired and who is aged 55 or over, can access super benefits.
‘Retired’ for the purposes of accessing super benefits means the trustees of the individual’s super fund are reasonably satisfied that the person intends never to again become gainfully employed, either on a full-time or a part-time basis. Note that ‘part-time’ is defined as working up to 30 hours a week and a minimum of 10 hours a week.
In other words, if a person’s intention is to work fewer than 10 hours a week, then that person can be considered to be retired, subject to the person ceasing his or her current employment arrangement. In nearly all cases, the super fund will request that the retiring individual sign a declaration stating that he or she never intends to be gainfully employed for more than 10 hours per week.
Note: Reducing your hours with the same employer, rather than ceasing employment, is not considered retiring. I explain this scenario in the article Does changing to part-time at 60 count as retiring?
Can I return to work after retiring?
Signing a retirement declaration doesn’t preclude returning to full-time work, or deciding to work part-time (more than 10 hours a week), if a person’s circumstances change. The declaration relates to the person’s current intention at the time of retiring. Personal or financial circumstances can change requiring individuals to return to the workforce. For example, the devastating effect of the GFC (global financial crisis) on pension investments in Australia and worldwide has forced many retirees to return to work.
Some public sector funds have special rules relating to ‘retiring’ from the public service. If you belong to one of the older public sector funds, then you need to check with your super fund about your retirement options.
Can I access my preserved super benefits if I’m still working?
Generally no, but like all rules there are some exceptions:
- Reach the age of 65. If an individual has turned 65, he or she can access super benefits without retiring from the workforce. An individual can continue working full-time or part-time and start drawing down on super benefits.
- Take a TRIP. If you have reached your preservation age (currently 55), then you can start a transition-to-retirement pension – what I call a TRIP. You can withdraw a maximum of 10% of your account balance each year, and you’re not permitted to withdraw additional lump sums. When you retire, or turn 65 (whichever comes first) however, you can have more flexibility when accessing your super benefits.
- If you’re aged 60 or over, and cease an employment arrangement. If an individual resigns or otherwise ceases an employment arrangement after they have turned 60, then the rules permit the individual to access preserved super benefits related to his or her employment arrangement. The rationale behind this exception is that most individuals ceasing employment at this age are more likely to be retiring than returning to the workforce.
Note one: Merely turning 60 doesn’t give you automatic access to your preserved super benefits. You must satisfy a condition of release, as discussed above and in the SuperGuide article Accessing super early: 14 legal reasons to cash your super.
Note two: If any of your super benefits are ‘unrestricted non-preserved’ benefits, then you can access these benefits at any time. I explain non-preserved benefits in the article Unrestricted access to super, sometimes.