Q: I left Australia in 2001, but I was part of a super fund from about 1993/4. I see from your 14 legal reasons to cash your super article, that I may be able to access my restricted benefit. You write: “Cease employment and have certain pre-1999 super benefits. If you’ve been a member of a super fund since before 1 July 1999, you can cash your ‘restricted benefit’ only when you cease employment with your employer”. Does this mean I can access my super? Also I am in the early stages of changing my citizenship to British – what are the super rules governing ex-Australians and their super fund.
A: You have a couple of questions here, but that’s not surprising considering you have left Australia and are changing citizenship.
1. Can I access my restricted benefit?
The term ‘restricted benefit’ is a technical term to describe certain benefits that can be accessed when an individual ceases an employment arrangement.
Briefly, there are two categories of superannuation benefits – ‘preserved’ and ‘non-preserved’. The ‘non-preserved benefits’ are then split into, ‘restricted non-preserved’, and ‘unrestricted non-preserved’.
Unless you were a member of a super fund before July 1999, your super benefits will be preserved, and cannot be accessed until you satisfy a condition of release: see SuperGuide article Accessing super early: 14 legal reasons to cash your super.
If you were a member of a super fund before July 1999, then, whether you have non-preserved benefits within your super fund, depends on some complicated rules. Generally, any Superannuation Guarantee contributions made since July 1992 are preserved, although some made before July 1994 may not be preserved. If you have made any salary sacrificed contributions before July 1999, then some may be non-preserved depending on the arrangement that was in place.
Tip: The easiest way to check whether you have non-preserved benefits is to look at your latest member statement from your super fund. The statement should state whether you have any non-preserved benefits. If you can’t locate your member statement then contact your super fund and ask them directly.
Now, I’m going to add one more complication. If you do have restricted non-preserved benefits, you can access these benefits when you resign from an employment arrangement. If you have had restricted non-preserved benefits in the past, and ceased employment, then those restricted benefits become unrestricted and can be accessed at any time. You need to check with your super fund whether you have any unrestricted non-preserved benefits.
If you have a portion of your super benefits as ‘unrestricted non-preserved’ benefits, then you can apply to withdraw them from your super fund, less any benefits tax payable.
2. I am taking out UK citizenship. Can I access my super?
In the past, the fact that an individual was leaving Australia permanently was an acceptable condition of release. In the past, if you supplied sufficient evidence, such as permanent residence in another country, job details and even citizenship application, then it was possible to access a super benefit before retirement. This condition of release no longer applies.
The short answer to your second question is ‘no’: for Australian citizens leaving the country permanently, it is not possible to access super benefits early due to permanent departure from Australia. I explain the access rules for temporary residents leaving Australia in the article Accessing super early: Temporary resident of Australia.