Access to superannuation prior to retirement may be allowed in circumstances where an individual is considered to be in severe financial hardship or there are strong compassionate grounds for early release.

In order to access superannuation through severe financial hardship, the member must be receiving Commonwealth income support payments. If the member cannot apply for income support from the government, the only condition of release that the member may qualify is on compassionate grounds.

Under compassionate grounds, a benefit may be payable to members or their dependents for the following:

  • medical treatment and medical transport
  • palliative care
  •  a payment on a loan or council rates so members don’t lose their residential home
  • a payment to modify a member’s home or vehicle, or to buy disability aids because of a severe disability
  • expenses associated with a death, funeral or burial of a dependent.

To be eligible, members need to submit their application to the Commissioner of Taxation and demonstrate that they can only afford to pay the expense by accessing their superannuation. It means, a member needs to prove that they do not have the means to pay for these expenses.  Early access to superannuation under compassionate grounds is only for unpaid expenses.  Members cannot get access to superannuation to pay for costs already paid even if they use a loan, a credit card or money from family or friends.  In addition, the member needs to meet the eligibility requirements of the relevant compassionate ground that they are applying for.

We have summarised the conditions for each of the grounds in the following table:

Compassionate groundsRequirements
Medical treatment/ transportThe member must provide medical certificates from two registered medical practitioners (at least one of whom must be a specialist) certifying that:
• The medical treatment is necessary to:
- treat a life threatening illness or injury; or
- alleviate acute, or chronic, pain; or
- alleviate an acute, or chronic, mental disturbance; and
• The treatment is not readily available through the public health system
Palliative careThe member can only access super to pay for palliative care if members or their dependents have a terminal illness. The member needs to provide one report completed by a registered medical practitioner or specialist which certifies that:
• the member or dependent has a terminal illness and has 24 months or less to live, and
• the member/ dependent requires palliative care

The medical practitioner reports must be completed no more than six months before the application. The reports must be signed, dated and submitted with the application.

Note: The member may apply directly to the trustee for early release of superannuation to pay for their own palliative care. The fund can release the money on the condition of the terminal medical condition and the benefit will not be taxable if paid as a lump sum. However, if it is on the compassionate ground, the benefit may be taxable depending on the components of the benefit. .
Accommodating a disabilityThe member needs to provide a report from registered medical practitioner or specialist which certifies that:
• the member/ dependent has a severe disability, and
• the modifications or purchase is necessary to accommodate the disability.

The medical practitioner reports must be completed no more than six months before the application. The reports must be signed, dated and submitted with the application.
Recent passing of a dependentThe member needs to provide:
• the dependent’s death certificate; or
• a letter from the dependent’s medical practitioner or funeral provider to certify that the dependent has passed away including the date of death. The letter must have medical practitioner’s AHPRA number and not be more than six months old.
Preventing foreclosure or forced sale of homeThis benefit only applies to a member, not their dependents. A letter from their bank/lender must be provided for each loan that the member secured for their home. The letter must specify the property address, the amount overdue as well as the amount needed to be paid in order to stop a forced sale. The letter should not be more than thirty days old and on the bank/lender letterhead.

The amount released in each twelve month period must not exceed three months of repayments plus twelve months of interest, which should be stated in the bank/lender letter.