What you should know about the Productivity Commission’s superannuation inquiry

What you should know about the Productivity Commission’s superannuation inquiry

In January 2019, the Australian government’s Productivity Commission, an independent research and advisory body, made public its inquiry report on the Australian superannuation system.

This report brought to a close a three-stage inquiry running from 2016 to 2018. The first stage required the Commission to develop a framework for evaluating the super system’s performance. In the second stage, alternative ways of allocating members to super funds by default were devised. In the third and final stage, the Productivity Commission suggested improvements to the Australian super system. The Commission’s suggestions were based on analysing previous research and collecting fresh data, through five surveys, on super fund performance.

The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the Australian super system pointed out that, each year, super fund members were losing super benefits due to underperforming investment. Further, it found that members tended to have multiple super fund accounts, possibly due to new super fund accounts created when changing jobs.

According to the Commission, members could realise super benefits potentially worth $3.8 billion if these two factors were addressed. The Commission recommended allocating members to default funds only if they didn’t already have a super fund account. Further, the Commission recommended giving members information about super fund performance when offering them the choice of funds. 

What are the key super issues highlighted by the Productivity Commission?

The Productivity Commission found that super fund members don’t receive as many benefits as they could because the funds are insufficiently regulated. Furthermore, super funds aren’t transparently managed and don’t always serve the funds’ members’ interests. It also found that only half of Australia’s super fund accounts have balances exceeding $1 million, which points to inadequate scaling up or merging of super funds.

The Commission also calculated a benchmark value for the returns super funds get from their investments. It found that investments by retail super funds were more likely to yield lower returns. Worse still was that retail funds are also more likely to charge higher fees to its members.

Members also end up footing the costs of super funds, in the form of fees and insurance, to the tune of $2.6 billion due to having multiple super fund accounts. The Commission found that having just one additional super fund account, even unintentionally, could reduce the super fund balance by as much as 6 per cent when the member retires. Not many super fund members are aware of this, though, with only a small percentage keeping track of super fund balances and taking necessary actions. Not surprisingly, many of the more engaged members contribute to self-managed super funds (SMSFs). 

What are the improvements recommended by the Productivity Commission?

In total, the Productivity Commission has made 31 recommendations to “modernise” the Australian super system. One of the first recommendations is that the allocation of members to default super fund accounts occurs only once. This allocation could happen for members who don’t choose their super fund when they get their first job.

Further to this, to help new members make informed choices, the Commission recommended that they should be told about the ten best-performing super funds. The Commission also recommended creating the first list of “best in show” super funds by June 2021. Employers could allocate members who don’t choose on their own to one of these shortlisted funds, thereby ensuring that members get the most out of super contributions.

Some of the other key recommendations include:

  1. Appointing an independent panel of financial experts to shortlist the best-performing super funds.
  2. Taking steps to eliminate multiple super accounts by consolidating funds with balances below $6,000 which have been inactive for at least one year and one month. Each super fund’s balance could then be transferred to the respective member by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
  3. Benchmarking and independently verifying the investment outcomes of super funds regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to ensure more standard performance.  
  4. Publishing a one-page product dashboard for all super investment options, and delivering these through online services.
  5. Clarifying the roles of APRA and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in regulating the Australian super system.

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Learn more about superannuation

Can I transfer money from overseas into my superannuation account?

Yes, you can transfer money from overseas into your superannuation account – under certain conditions. First, you must provide your tax file number to your fund. Second, if you are aged between 65 and 74, you must have worked at least 40 hours within 30 consecutive days in a financial year. (Australians under 65 aren’t subject to a work test; Australians aged 75 and over cannot receive contributions to their superannuation account.)

Money transferred from overseas will generally count to both your concessional contributions limit and your non-concessional contributions limit. You will have to pay income tax on the applicable fund earnings component of any money transferred from overseas. You might also be liable for excess contributions tax.

How do I change my superannuation fund?

Changing superannuation funds is a common and straightforward process. You can do it through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your new fund. You’ll also have to provide proof of identity.

What is the difference between accumulation and defined benefit funds?

A majority of Australians are in accumulation funds. These funds grow according to the amount of money invested and the return on that money.

A minority of Australians are in defined benefit funds – many of which are now closed to new members. These funds give payouts according to specific rules, such as how long the worker has been with their employer and their final salary before they retired.

What are ethical investment superannuation funds?

Ethical investment funds limit themselves to making ‘ethical’ investments (which each fund defines according to its own principles). For example, ethical funds might avoid investing in companies or industries that are linked to human suffering or environmental damage.

Can I buy a house with my superannuation?

First home buyers are the only people who can use their superannuation to buy a property. The federal government has created the First Home Super Saver Scheme to help first home buyers save for a deposit. First home buyers can make voluntary contributions of up to $15,000 per year, and $30,000 in total, to their superannuation account. These contributions are taxed at 15 per cent, along with deemed earnings. Withdrawals are taxed at marginal tax rates minus a tax offset of 30 percentage points.

Voluntary contributions to the First Home Super Saver Scheme are not exempt from the $25,000 annual limit on concessional contributions. So if you pay $15,000 per year into the First Home Super Saver Scheme, you have to make sure that you don’t receive more than $10,000 in superannuation payments from your employer and any salary sacrificing.

What happens if my employer goes out of business while still owing me superannuation?

If your employer collapses, a trustee or administrator or liquidator will be appointed to manage the company. That trustee/administrator/liquidator will be required to pay your superannuation out of company funds.

If the company doesn’t have enough funds, in some cases company directors will be required to pay your superannuation. If the directors still don’t pay, the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) might take legal action on your behalf. However, ASIC might decline to take legal action or might be unsuccessful.

So there might be some circumstances when you don’t receive all the superannuation you’re owed.

Am I entitled to superannuation if I'm a part-time employee?

As a part-time employee, you’re entitled to superannuation if:

  • You’re over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • You’re under 18, you work more than 30 hours per week and you earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

How do you find lost superannuation funds?

Lost superannuation refers to savings in an account that you’ve forgotten about. This can happen if you’ve opened several different accounts over the years while moving from job to job.

You can use your MyGov account to see details of all your superannuation accounts, including any you might have forgotten. Alternatively, you can fill in a ‘Searching for lost super’ form and send it to the Australian Taxation Office, which will then search on your behalf.

How do you calculate superannuation from a total package?

Superannuation is calculated at the rate of 9.5 per cent of your ‘ordinary-time earnings’. (For most people, ordinary-time earnings are their gross annual salary or wages.) So if you had a salary of $50,000, your superannuation would be 9.5 per cent of that, or $4,750. This would be paid on top of your salary.

As the Australian Taxation Office explains, some items are excluded from ordinary-time earnings. They include:

  • Overtime work paid at overtime rates
  • Expense allowances that are fully expended
  • Expenses that are reimbursed
  • Unfair dismissal payments
  • Workers’ compensation payments
  • Parental leave
  • Jury duty
  • Defence reserve service
  • Unused annual leave when employment is terminated
  • Unused long service leave when employment is terminated
  • Unused sick leave when employment is terminated

Although the superannuation guarantee is currently at 9.5 per cent, it is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

How much superannuation should I have at age 40?

The amount of superannuation you should have at age 40 is based on how much money you need to have at retirement. That, in turn, is based on how much money you expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

 

 

Can I choose a superannuation fund or does my employer choose one for me?

Most people can choose their own superannuation fund. However, you might not have this option if you are a member of certain defined benefit funds or covered by certain industrial agreements. If you don’t choose a superannuation fund, your employer will choose one for you.

What is the superannuation rate?

The superannuation rate, or guarantee rate, is the percentage of your salary that your employer must pay into your superannuation fund. The superannuation guarantee has been set at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

What is superannuation?

Superannuation is money set aside for your retirement. This money is automatically paid into your superannuation fund by your employer.

How much is superannuation in Australia?

Superannuation in Australia is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary.

The ‘superannuation guarantee’, as it is known, has been at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.