Q: I am 52 years old. I’m having heart surgery and won’t be able to work for 3 months, and I have no sick leave because I have just started a new job. My surgery will cause me financial hardship but I cannot access my super benefits under the ‘severe financial hardship’ exemption because I am not on Centrelink benefits. Can you give me any other ideas to access my super benefits? I did read somewhere about temporary incapacity.
A: I’m very sorry to read about your predicament. As you mention, it is worthwhile to check whether you have an income protection (also called ‘salary continuance’) policy attached to your super fund account, or with any other super fund that you may belong to, or outside the super system, that pays you an income in the circumstances that you are currently facing.
Another possibility is to apply for early release of super benefits on ‘compassionate grounds’. Although the compassionate grounds are very specific, one of those grounds is to assist with medical treatment. You must apply to the Department of Human Services in the first instance, and then when you have the okay of the DHS, you (or the DHS), liaise with your super fund. Note that not all super funds permit early access of super benefits on these grounds, so you should check with your super fund before applying to DHS.
The super regulations (SIS Regulations 1994, Reg 6.19A) allow early release of super benefits on compassionate grounds where:
- the money is required to pay for medical treatment or medical transport for the person (or dependant of the person)
- based on the certification of 2 medical practitioners, the medical treatment is necessary to treat a life threatening illness or injury; or to alleviate acute, or chronic, pain; or alleviate an acute, or chronic, mental disturbance
- the treatment is not readily available to the person (or person’s dependant) through the public health system
- the person does not have the financial capacity to meet the expense of the treatment
You can find further information on the requirements, including documentation, by visiting the DHS website, in particular, this link. You can also refer to another SuperGuide article for more information: Accessing super early on ‘compassionate grounds’.
Note: Centrelink benefits may be payable in your circumstances. Chat to Centrelink about the Sickness and Disability benefits available (www.centrelink.gov.au or phone 13 27 17)
Warning: Some super funds don’t permit early access for any reason, even for compassionate grounds, so check that your super fund’s rules allow you to withdraw early on these grounds before applying to the Department of Human Services.
Q: I’m wondering if I can access my super for health reasons. I need weight loss surgery to basically stay alive, and it is very costly, but without it, I probably won’t be able to work again. I am 50 years old.
A: I’m sorry to hear about your circumstances. My answer to the question above (relating to heart surgery) is also relevant to your question.
I’m not aware if there is an official policy on how the DHS processes applications for accessing super benefits for weight loss surgery, but I am aware that super benefits have been accessed for this purpose. Morbid obesity may possibly be considered a life-threatening illness. An individual can access super benefits for medical treatment that will treat a life-threatening illness or to alleviate acute or chronic pain, so early access to treat obesity makes sense to me. If the Department of Human Services considers this to be the case, then you can access super benefits to pay for medical treatment.
An additional clause of the superannuation regulations provides some further flexibility for the DHS. The DHS can also authorise release of super benefits where the release is consistent with a ground specifically mentioned in the regulations. For more information on compassionate grounds, see SuperGuide article Accessing super early on ‘compassionate grounds’.
You can also find more information on early release based on the compassionate ground of ‘medical treatment’ by clicking DHS medical treatment.
When you do click on the link, scroll down the page and you can then access one of the documents you must submit to DHS by clicking on the link titled ‘Early release of Superannuation on Specified Compassionate Grounds Report by Medical or Dental Practitioner and/or Specialist form’, or by clicking here.
Note: You can also check whether you have income protection insurance inside your super fund (check with all of your super funds if you have more than one fund) or outside the super system and determine whether the policy pays an income in such circumstances.