Early access to superannuation: Understanding your options

Your super is all about setting money aside for when you retire. It's a nest egg of funds that hopefully should grow over your working life and support you for later on.

Usually, you can't touch this money until you retire. However, sometimes things don't go to plan, and you might need to access some of your super sooner. There are specific scenarios and rules around when you may get early access to your super – typically when you are facing severe financial hardship or on compassionate grounds.

Let’s explore some choices for accessing super early if you ever find yourself or a loved one in a tough spot.

Severe financial hardship and your super 

Severe financial hardship is when you are unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses like groceries, rent or medical costs. You may be able to access some of your super early to help.

Am I eligible for early super access under severe financial hardship?

To apply for early release of super due to severe financial hardship you must meet the following criteria:

  • you’ve been receiving Commonwealth income support payments for 26 continuous weeks and
  •  you’re unable to meet reasonable and immediate family and living expenses

Or

  • you’ve reached preservation age (refer to preservation age table below) plus 39 weeks and
  • you’ve been receiving Commonwealth income support payments for a cumulative period of 39 weeks since reaching preservation age and
  • you’re not gainfully employed when you apply (that is, you’re unemployed or employed less than 10 hours a week)

Note: These criteria are set out in law and must be followed by Australian super funds

If you’re unsure how long you’ve been receiving Commonwealth income support payments, you can view your payment summary on the myGov portal.

Preservation age

Preservation age is the age you’d usually be able to access your super.

Date of birth Preservation age

Before 1 July 1960

55

1 July 1960 to 30 June 1961

56

1 July 1961 to 30 June 1962

57

1 July 1962 to 30 June 1963

58

1 July 1963 to 30 June 1964

59

1 July 1964 or after

60
Piggy bank and a life saving buoy

Can you apply for early release of super due to severe financial hardship?

Your super is meant to help your retirement, so there is strict rules around accessing it early due to severe financial hardship. These rules are specified by law and must be followed by Australian super funds.

Answer a few questions to see if you may be eligible.

 

Ok, here's the first question.

Are you currently receiving Commonwealth income support payments?

 
 

I've already applied for severe financial hardship with Rest

Once we have receive your application:

  1. We’ll review it and make a payment to your bank within 5 business days.
  2. If we have your mobile number, we’ll text you to confirm we’ve made the payment.
  3. Your bank may take another 2-3 days to allocate the money to your account.

We’ll reach out to you if we need more information. Once we’ve received all the necessary details, we'll make a payment to your bank within 5 business days.

 

Are you currently under or over preservation age?

Your preservation age is the age at which you can access your super and depends on when you were born.

 
 
 
 

Have you reached preservation age, plus 39 weeks and have been receiving Commonwealth income support payments for a cumulative period of 39 weeks since reaching preservation age?

 
 
 
 

Have you been receiving Commonwealth income support payments for a period of 26 continuous week?

 
 
 
 

Are you currently not gainfully employed?

Are you unemployed or employed less than 10 hours a week?

 
 
 
 

Are you unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses?

 
 
 

Based on your responses, you may be eligible to access your super early due severe financial hardship.

The next step is speak to a Customer Service Consultant, Monday to Friday 8am-8pm or Saturdays 9am-5pm. (AEST/AEDT), who will need your Centrelink Reference Number (CRN) to confirm your eligibility. After confirming your eligibility, they will then take you through the application process and send you a form.

 

Based on your responses, you're not eligible to access your super early due severe financial hardship.

We understand this must feel disappointing. As an Australian super fund, we need to follow the eligibility criteria prescribed by law. There are other limited circumstances where you might be able to access your super early, which you can read here.

 
25%
50%
75%
100%

How do I apply to access my super early due to severe financial hardship?

Have your Centrelink Customer Reference Number (CRN) handy when you contact us so that we can confirm you meet the eligibility criteria.

  1. Once confirmed, we’ll send you a form (via email or post) to complete.
  2. When we receive your completed form, we’ll make your payment to your bank account within 5 business days – you’ll also need to allow another 2-3 days for your bank to process the payment.

Compassionate grounds: When can you withdraw super early?

You may be able to withdraw some of your super early on compassionate grounds if you need to pay for:

  • medical costs – for treatment or travel to treatment for you, your partner, child or other dependant
  • mortgage – to stop the bank from selling your home
  • disability – to modify your home or car to accommodate the special needs of you or your dependant which arise from a severe disability
  • palliative care – for you or a dependant
  • funeral – to pay for expenses for a dependant.

Am I eligible for early super access on compassionate grounds?

Visit the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website here for eligibility criteria for applying to access some of your super on compassionate grounds.

How to apply for early access on compassionate grounds

You’ll need to apply for access to your super on compassionate grounds directly with the ATO.

Apply online via the ATO page in myGov - go to ‘compassionate release’ in the super tab. Your application can take up to 14 days (28 days for paper applications) – Rest can’t provide a progress update while the ATO is assessing your claim.

Once your claim has been assessed the ATO will notify you of the outcome via phone or SMS, and you’ll receive a message in your myGov inbox (or post if you applied with a paper form).

If your claim is approved, you’ll receive an approval letter from the ATO. You can then complete a withdrawal form here – make sure your approval letter from the ATO is attached as we need this to process your claim.

Additional circumstances for early super access

There are additional circumstances where you may be able to access super funds early outside of severe financial hardship or compassionate reasons.

Permanent incapacity or terminal illness

In general, you can access your super early if you’re:

  • Permanently incapacitated – unlikely to engage in gainful employment for which you’re reasonably qualified (by education, training or experience) because of physical or mental ill health. You may also be eligible to access your super if you meet the criteria but are engaging in light duties in a different position or casual work in a different field. Learn more here.
  • Diagnosed with a terminal illness – Rest will require proof of your condition from two separate medical practitioners that you suffer from an illness or injury that is likely to result in your death within 24 months of the date of the certification. In the case of terminal illness, one of the practitoners must be a specialist in the particular field related to the illness or injury suffered by you. Please note the 24 month certification period from the date of the certifications has not ended.

If you have Death or Total Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance as part of your Rest account, you may be able to make a claim. Learn more here.

Departing Australian Superannuation Payment (DASP)

If you came to Australia on an eligible temporary resident visa (excluding subclasses 405 and 410), worked here, and earned super in that time, you may be able to take some of these funds with you. You may only apply for DASP after you have left Australia, and your visa has expired. Strict eligibility criteria and some temporary visa exclusions may apply. Learn more about the DASP here.

First Home Super Saver Scheme (FHSSS)

To assist in purchasing your first home, you may be eligible to withdraw some voluntary super contributions. The scheme may assist would-be homebuyers bolster their deposit savings and may potentially offer tax benefits. However, strict eligibility, rules, withdrawal limits and timeframes apply. Learn more about the First Home Super Saver Scheme here.

Other circumstances for early super access

Other conditions in which you can apply to access super early may include:

  • Small super balance (under $200)
  • ‘Unrestricted non-preserved’ classified super
  • New Zealand citizen (may transfer funds to a KiwiSaver scheme)

For more information on these and other conditions, please read our factsheet on accessing your super early.  

Managing cost of living expenses

Cost of living pressures can put serious financial strain on Australian households, and it’s hard to keep track of what to pay first when everything seems urgent. Luckily, there are resources and strategies available to help you potentially manage your living expenses. Read more here.

While early access to super can provide much-needed relief in times of hardship, it's not a decision to be taken lightly. Keep in mind that there may be government resources and support available, as well as hardship programs through your bank or financial provider, to help you navigate tough times. It’s worthwhile weighing up your options against your specific financial needs now (and in the future) before you proceed.

If you are concerned that early access to super may impact your retirement, please speak to your super fund. If you’re a Rest member, speak with a Rest Adviser. For simple superannuation phone advice, there is usually no extra charge to you – it’s part of being a member of Rest.

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You may be eligible to access some or all your super today if you’ve already reached your preservation age (between ages 55 to 60). For more information, visit our Accessing Your Super page.

Want to learn more?