On this page
- How to complain about your super fund
- Talk to the superannuation umpire (SCT)
- How the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT) works
- What types of complaints can the SCT review?
- Understanding what the SCT can review
- Common complaints resolved by the SCT
- A 3-step process for making a complaint to the SCT
- For more information…
Most of the time, Australia’s super system works very well and retirement savers are able to take advantage of their super fund’s extensive experience and knowledge in managing and investing their hard-earned retirement savings. But sometimes – even in the best of super funds – things can go wrong or an error is made, so it’s useful to know who you can turn to for help sorting out a problem or rectifying a complaint.
How to complain about your super fund
When you are unhappy, the first step should be to make a formal complaint through your super fund’s internal complaints process. Queries or complaints can usually be made via telephone, email or post, but a formal complaint should be in writing. Contact details for the super fund’s internal dispute resolution (IDR) area are normally published on its website and in the Product Disclosure Statement you received when you joined.
Super funds are required to investigate your complaints fairly and to provide both a written response, and information about what to do if you are not satisfied. The response from the super fund must be within set time periods and these timeframes depend on whether the complaint relates to super (within 90 days), privacy (within 30 days) or non-super/advice (within 45 days). If your super fund does not respond by the deadline, or does not write explaining its reasons for not meeting the deadline, you can take your complaint to an external dispute resolution (EDR) body.
Note: You must make a formal complaint to your super fund before you will be permitted to lodge a complaint with an external dispute resolution scheme. Usually these dispute resolution bodies will not consider your complaint until the super fund has had an opportunity to review your complaint and attempted to resolve it directly with you.
Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT) changes from 1 November 2018
From 1 November 2018, a new single EDR scheme called the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), will replace the three largest existing EDRs: the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT), Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO). For more information on AFCA, see SuperGuide article Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) now handles complaints about super.
The SCT will continue to receive and deal with complaints up to, and including, 31 October 2018. If you have a question about an existing complaint you have lodged with the SCT, you should contact the SCT.
Once AFCA becomes operational on 1 November 2018, the SCT will no longer accept new complaints about super matters. The SCT will continue to operate for a period alongside AFCA to resolve any existing backlog of complaints.
Existing complaints will not be transferred from the SCT to AFCA and any complaints withdrawn from the SCT cannot be relodged with AFCA.
Talk to the superannuation umpire (SCT)
Until 31 October 2018, if you are not happy with the response from your super fund, the next step is to talk to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT), an independent dispute resolution body set up by the Australian government to resolve complaints from super fund members, and also to resolve complaints from former members (or beneficiaries in relation to death benefits). The SCT also deals with complaints about some super-related products provided by approved deposit funds (ADFs), annuities from life companies, retirement savings accounts (RSAs), some surcharge tax contributions decisions and small APRA funds (SAFs).
Note: From 1 November 2018, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority will be the dispute resolution body (refer earlier section in this article for information).
Although the SCT is the main dispute resolution body for super members, other organisations are responsible for specific areas. For more information on the other dispute resolution schemes, see the SuperGuide article, What to do if you have a problem with your super fund or financial adviser
How the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT) works
The Superannuation Complaints Tribunal is designed to offer a free, user-friendly alternative to the court system. It is impartial and makes decisions based on the facts and merits of each complaint and its determinations can be appealed on a question of law to the Federal Court.
An SCT review involves a three-step process:
- Obtain relevant documents and information.
- Use conciliation to try to reach a settlement between the parties.
- Formally review the complaint to determine an outcome.
What types of complaints can the SCT review?
During the 2016/2017 year, the SCT received 2,138 written complaints and 22,394 enquiries (15,805 by phone and 6,589 by email), relating to decisions and conduct of super fund trustees, or relating to their insurers and service-providers. It’s worth noting only 64% of the written complaints received were within the SCT’s jurisdiction. Just over half of those complaints related to administration, while the other half were about death and disability disputes.
Generally, the SCT can deal with complaints about the decisions and conduct of:
- Trustees and service-providers of a regulated super fund, other than approved deposit funds (ADF).
- Life companies providing immediate and deferred annuities (annuity policies).
- RSA companies and their service-providers (e.g. insurers).
Important: The SCT does not have any jurisdiction in relation to complaints about SMSFs. Trustees and members of SMSFs must resolve their own complaints and this may require legal assistance. In some cases the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) may be able to assist.
Understanding what the SCT can review
Before rushing off to lodge a complaint with the SCT, it’s important to check whether the SCT has the power to deal with your complaint and whether it can remedy your problem. Some factors to think about include:
- Inability to review certain issues. Unfortunately, the SCT does not have authority to look at many areas relating to super funds, such as a super fund’s overall operations and management, investment performance, fees and charges, customer service and communications. For example, if you believe your super fund’s investment earnings should have been better, or its fees are too high, the SCT cannot investigate these issues. Similarly, the SCT does not deal with a complaint where you think you should be required to ‘opt-in’ to the insurance cover provided by your super fund, rather than be forced to ‘opt-out’ if you don’t want it.
- Grounds for the complaint. It is also important to recognise your complaint must relate to a decision or behaviour by the super fund that was ‘unfair’ or ‘unreasonable’, in those particular circumstances. Just claiming the decision is wrong is not a strong basis on which to complain.
- Limits on remedies. In making a determination about your complaint, the SCT will only aim to place you back in the position you would have been in before the decision was made. It does not award costs or damages and will not provide a remedy if there has been no adverse outcome or financial loss (for example, if you receive poor customer service).
Important: In reviewing a complaint, the SCT cannot provide a remedy that is contrary to superannuation or tax legislation, or is contrary to the super fund’s own trust deed or the relevant insurance policy.
Common complaints resolved by the SCT
Most of the complaints reviewed by the SCT relate to three main areas:
- Administration (50.4%). Administration covers disputes about deduction of insurance premiums, account balances, delays, errors, and early release of benefits.
- Death benefits (29.7%). Death complaints mainly relate to disputes over the distribution of a deceased member’s death benefit.
- Disability claims (19.8%). Disability claim issues usually concern the amount and the medical decisions made when refusing payment of a disability insurance benefit to a super fund member.
Examples of some of the complaints the SCT reviews include:
- a death benefit was paid to the wrong person
- an unreasonable delay or miscalculation in a benefit or payment occurred
- refusal to approve a disability claim
- errors in an annual statement
- misrepresentations in the terms and conditions of a life or annuity policy
- incorrect splitting of a super benefit between spouses under a Family Court Order.
Although the SCT cannot look at the super fund’s operations or management, it will consider how these issues are disclosed to super fund members. For example, the SCT will review whether the super fund’s fees and charges were fully disclosed, or if untrue statements were made about the existence or level of its fees and charges.
A 3-step process for making a complaint to the SCT
The tribunal has a clear procedure for lodging a complaint and not following the SCT procedure will delay resolution of your problem:
- Make a complaint to your super fund through its internal complaints area. The SCT website includes a sample complaint letter you can use to simplify the process (click on this link to access the sample letter). If you are not satisfied or you have not had a response after 90 days, you are free to make a complaint to the SCT.
- Before lodging a complaint, check that your complaint is within the SCT’s jurisdiction (click on this link to access SCT guidance on this matter) and that the tribunal has the power to provide you with a satisfactory remedy (click on this link for remedies that the SCT can provide).
- Lodge a written complaint using the online complaint form (see this link) and mail it to the SCT to review.
If you want to contact the SCT or need assistance with lodging your complaint, you can call the SCT’s Inquiry line (1300 884 114) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information…
For more information about superannuation insurance and death benefits, see the following SuperGuide articles: