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Most of the time your super chugs along in the background while you get on with life, but if and when something goes wrong you may need help to put it right.
Fortunately, it’s not all that common for super fund members to need to complain about their fund.
In 2021–22, there were 5,286 complaints about super products made to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), but this is dwarfed by the almost 43,000 complaints submitted about banking and financial products and the 19,000 complaints about general insurance.
So if you do have a problem with your super fund or the information it has provided, it’s good to know you can approach an independent referee like AFCA for assistance.
How to make a complaint about your super fund
When it comes to making a complaint, it’s important to do things the right way if you want to make the process as painless as possible – and to have the best chance of a good result.
Step 1 – Work out what you are complaining about
Although it sounds silly, it’s important to consider exactly what your super fund has done that you want to complain about:
- Ensure you can explain the problem clearly and stick to the facts.
- Think about what type of loss you have experienced and what sort of outcome or remedy you want to achieve from your complaint.
- Write a timeline of events so your super fund – or a third-party arbitrator – can understand what happened in relation to your complaint.
- Collect any relevant documents to help support your complaint, as you will need these during the process. This could include your annual member statements, Product Disclosure Statement or correspondence from the fund trustee.
- Consider if you want to authorise someone to complain on your behalf, such as your financial adviser or accountant.
Step 2 – Talk to your super fund
If you are unhappy, your first port of call should be your super fund’s internal dispute resolution (IDR) team. The contact details should be on the fund’s website and in the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) you received when you joined.
Queries or complaints can be made via telephone, email, social media or post, but it’s usually best to write out your complaint in full to ensure you cover everything you want to say. If it’s easier for you, however, it’s acceptable to phone the fund with your complaint.
Super funds are required to investigate your complaints fairly and provide both a written response and information about what to do if you are not satisfied.
Responses from your super fund must be within a set time period. The fund should tell you the IDR process has concluded and the outcome, plus inform you of your right to complain to AFCA (see below) and any time limits on making that complaint.
If you have already complained through your provider’s IDR process, you usually need to complain to AFCA within two years of getting its response.
Step 3 – Complain to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)
If you are not satisfied with the response from your super fund, your next step is to contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
AFCA is a dispute resolution scheme designed to provide free, fair and independent assistance with complaints about super products. It acts as an independent and impartial ombudsman, which means it doesn’t act on your behalf or on behalf of your super fund.
Super complaints made to AFCA are subject to special rules and requirements. Unlike complaints about other financial products made to AFCA, there are no monetary limits in relation to super complaints, although specific time limits do apply.
Only certain people are permitted to make complaints to AFCA about a super product. These include the member holding the super product, anyone with an interest in a super death benefit, someone insured through super, and parties to a Family Law agreement affecting a super product.
Once you submit your complaint to AFCA, it will be referred to your super fund for review. The fund must try to resolve it directly with you before AFCA will consider the complaint.
AFCA has a two-step complaints resolution process:
- If your complaint is not resolved by your super fund, AFCA works with all parties to try and achieve a settlement using methods such as negotiation and conciliation.
- AFCA makes a determination (or decision) on the complaint, which is binding on the financial provider.
What super complaints will AFCA review?
AFCA will consider complaints about the decisions and conduct of:
- Trustees of a regulated super fund (but not an SMSF), including an insurer’s decision about insurance provided through your super account
- Trustees of an approved deposit fund (ADF)
- Life companies issuing a superannuation annuity product
- Retirement savings account (RSA) providers
- Trustees of a small APRA fund
- Trustees of a life policy fund’s decision about admitting a member to the fund
- Trustees in relation to a declined application for release of money in severe financial hardship (in certain circumstances).
What super issues can and can’t I complain about?
Before rushing off to lodge a complaint about your super fund with AFCA, it’s important to check whether it has the power to deal with your complaint.
AFCA will consider super complaints about:
- Advice you were given about a super product
- Fees or costs incorrectly charged or calculated, but not fees or costs you think are too high
- Information you were not given about the product, including fees or costs
- Errors in information provided to you (such as incorrect benefit statements)
- Errors in information provided to the ATO about your contributions
- Decisions your super fund made, including applications for insurance through your super account
- Disability claim decisions, including where the claim involves insurance cover through your super fund (time limits apply)
- Death benefit payments (time limits apply)
- Unreasonable delays in paying a benefit or switching investment options
- Instructions that were not followed (such as switching your investment option or changing your insurance cover)
- Incorrect or unauthorised transactions.
AFCA will not consider super complaints about:
- Your employer’s failure to pay super contributions or payment of an incorrect SG amount. (You should complain to the ATO instead, so see the section below.)
- Life insurance products that are not superannuation annuity policies. (AFCA deals with these complaints under its general jurisdiction.)
- Annuities not issued by a life company, such as those issued by a friendly society. (AFCA deals with these complaints under its general jurisdiction.)
- Financial advice relating to super if the financial adviser was not acting under the fund trustee’s Australian Financial Services Licence when providing the advice. (AFCA deals with these and other financial advice complaints under its general jurisdiction.)
- Complaints that have already been dealt with by a Court or the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.
- Complaints about the management of the super fund, RSA provider or insurer as a whole.
How can the ATO help with super complaints?
Although your employer is not a financial adviser or a super fund, employers play an important role in the super system because they are legally required to make regular Super Guarantee (SG) contributions on behalf of their employees.
If you believe your employer has not made contributions on your behalf or has not been paying enough SG, you can complain to the ATO.
The tax regulator is responsible for ensuring employers meet their SG responsibilities and can help chase up your unpaid super contributions.
A good place to start is to use the ATO’s web tool – Report unpaid super contributions from my employer – to let the ATO know your employer has not paid its required super contributions. The ATO will then start to investigate.
The ATO’s web tool can also be used if your employer has paid your super late or paid your super into the wrong super fund.
You can also contact the ATO’s helpline on 13 10 20 for complaints about your employer failing to pay super contributions on your behalf.