Under Australian legislation, whether you can access your super normally depends on your age. You can usually only access your super once you’ve reached your preservation age and met a condition of release. Returning to work once you have accessed your super is a potential option in most circumstances.
Your preservation age is between the ages of 55 and 60, depending on your date of birth. Currently, if you’re 57 or older, you’ve reached your preservation age, but this age will progressively increase until it is 60 for all Australians by 1 July 2023.
If you have not reached preservation age
If you have not reached your preservation age, you will need to meet one of the following early access conditions of release to access your super:
- Becoming permanently or temporarily incapacitated and unable to work
- Suffering severe financial hardship or from a terminal medical condition
- On compassionate grounds
However, there are limitations on how much of your super you can access under some early access conditions of release (compassionate grounds and hardship provisions). You’ll also have to pay tax on the amounts you receive, unless your condition of release is for permanent incapacity or a terminal medical condition.
You can still work if you have received some of your super early on compassionate grounds or due to severe financial hardship. However, the ATO will regularly monitor your ongoing eligibility to access your super under these conditions.
You can also go back to work after accessing your super due to being temporarily incapacitated, once you recover. You then won’t be able to access your super until you meet a new condition of release.
If you have reached preservation age
If you have reached your preservation age, you can access your super if you have met one of the following conditions of release:
- Beginning a transition-to-retirement income stream (TRIS) – this is a superannuation pension stream that you can draw down from while you’re still working
- Ceasing an employment arrangement once you’ve reached the age of 60
- Reaching 65 years of age, even if you haven’t retired.
If you’re under 60
If you’ve reached your preservation age but are under the age of 60 when you access your super, you may have to pay tax on any super payments you receive, regardless of the type of payment you get (i.e. lump sum or pension). The amount of tax you’ll have to pay depends on whether your payment contains a taxable component, a tax-free component, or a combination of both.
If retirement was the reason you accessed your super (either as a lump sum or pension) prior to turning 60, you can return to work provided you can prove that your intention to retire was genuine when you made it. For example, your personal circumstances may have changed since you retired. You may need to provide proof of these changed circumstances to the ATO or your super fund.
If you do return to work, you’ll only be able to access the super benefits you had accumulated up to that point in time. Any additional super that you accumulate by returning to work (for example through the compulsory superannuation guarantee contributions from a new employer) must be preserved until you meet another super condition of release (such as turning 65).
If you’re over 60
If you’re aged over 60, any super payments you receive are generally tax-free. You can also return to work anytime. But again, you won’t be able to access any super that you accumulate when you return to work until you meet a new condition of release.
If you’re over 65
If you’re aged over 65 when you access your super, you can also return to work at any time (and you don’t even need to have retired). There are no restrictions on you accessing any of your super at any time, including any contributions made by you while you’re working for your new or existing employer (or made by your employer on your behalf).
Learn more about working in retirement in the following SuperGuide articles:
- Work test: Making super contributions over 65
- How does the Age Pension work bonus work?
- Over age 60? A simple tax guide to accessing your super benefits
- Retirement age calculator: When can you access your super or the Age Pension?
- Super’s rulebook: What rules apply to you at different ages?
- What is the retirement age in Australia?
- Accessing super: Reaching age 65
- Put your feet up? Making super contributions after retirement
The information contained in this article is general in nature. Accessing your super is an important financial decision and it’s best to seek independent professional advice based on your individual financial needs and circumstances.