Australia's superannuation system is failing women

Australia's superannuation system is failing women

The Australian Services Union (ASU) have released their findings from two surveys about retirement security, and they believe the results show that Australia’s compulsory superannuation system is “failing women”.

Figures released show that:

  • Women are retiring with around half as much (53 per cent) superannuation as men.
  • Over 70 per cent of women have estimated balances under $150,000 while less than 38 per cent of men do.
  • 23 per cent of men have balances over $500,000 while less than four per cent of women hold such balances.
  • Almost a quarter of all women have balances less than $50,000.

These ASU results are also reinforced by data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which confirmed that women’s superannuation balances are systematically lower than men’s, and that the gap increases throughout their working life.

These results probably come as no surprise to Australian women who on average reach a superannuation balance of less than $80,000 at retirement (ABS figures):

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Why are women retiring with less?

There are three reasons, according to the ASU report, that Australian women are retiring with significantly less than men.

The motherhood gap

The ASU report examined several factors that contribute to superannuation contributions and found that the biggest impacts were all caused by parenthood.

“Mothers are more likely to have characteristics in many… variables [impact of age, education, relationship status, number of children, industry, occupation, hours worked, time taken out of work, debt, household income and pay rate] that reduce their income (and therefore superannuation) than fathers or men and women without children,” the report states.

“In almost every aspect of the gender pay gap and the superannuation gap we find that being a parent is negatively associated with women’s pay and super while it is positively associated with men’s pay and super.

“When couples have children, the woman usually takes more time off work than the man and she also is more likely to return to part-time work than full-time.”

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Part-time work

A far greater proportion of women work part-time than men. Reduced hours, often influenced by a woman’s role as caretaker (chosen member to take care of children or sick or elderly family), are a substantial factor determining the superannuation gender gap.

Caretakers often must elect to work fewer hours, and if you are working fewer hours are being paid less super.

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The gender pay gap

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the gender pay gap is the “difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. The national gender pay gap is currently 16.0% and has hovered between 15% and 19% for the past two decades.”

As retirement balances are almost entirely determined by compulsory contributions based on 9.5 per cent of a worker’s salary, the superannuation gap is largely influenced by the gender pay gap.

This is different to accumulating less superannuation due to taking on part-time work, as even full-time working women with children earn a lower salary on average:

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These results from ASU are alarming, and for millions of women it could mean the difference between retiring comfortably and falling into poverty.

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Learn more about superannuation

How do you pay superannuation?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees. Employers are required to pay superannuation to all their staff if the staff are:

  • Over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • Under 18, work more than 30 hours per week and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

This applies even if the staff are casual employees, part-time employees, contractors (provided the contract is mainly for their labour) or temporary residents.

Currently, the superannuation rate is currently 9.5 per cent of an employee’s ordinary time earnings. This 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.

Employers must pay superannuation at least four times per year. The due dates are 28 January, 28 April, 28 July and 28 October.

How do you access superannuation?

Accessing your superannuation is a simple administrative procedure – you just ask your fund to pay it. You can access your superannuation in three different ways:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

However, please note that your superannuation fund will only be able to make a payout if you meet the ‘conditions of release’. The conditions of release say you can claim your super when you reach:

  • Age 65
  • Your ‘preservation age’ and retire
  • Your preservation age and begin a ‘transition to retirement’ while still working

The preservation age has six different categories:

Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962 57
1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964 59
From 1 July 1964 60

There are also seven special circumstances under which you can claim your superannuation:

  • Compassionate grounds
  • Severe financial hardship
  • Temporary incapacity
  • Permanent incapacity
  • Superannuation inheritance
  • Superannuation balance under $200
  • Temporary resident departing Australia

What are reportable superannuation contributions?

For employees, there are two types of reportable superannuation contributions:

  • Reportable employer super contributions your employer makes for you
  • Personal deductible contributions you make for yourself

How much money do you get on the age pension?

Pension payments can be reduced due to the income test and asset test (see ‘What is the age pension’s income test?’ and ‘What is the age pension’s assets test?’).

Here are the maximum fortnightly payments:

Category

Single

Couple each

Couple combined

Couple apart due to ill health

Maximum basic rate

$808.30

$609.30

$1,218.60

$808.30

Maximum pension supplement

$65.90

$49.70

$99.40

$65.90

Energy supplement

$14.10

$10.60

$21.20

$14.10

TOTAL

$888.30

$669.60

$1,339.20

$888.30

What are my superannuation obligations if I'm an employer?

Employers are required to pay superannuation to all their staff if the staff are:

  • Over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • Under 18, work more than 30 hours per week and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

This applies even if the staff are casual employees, part-time employees, contractors (provided the contract is mainly for their labour) or temporary residents.

How do you find superannuation?

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 much superannuation do I need?

According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), here is how much you would be able to spend per week during retirement:

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

How do you open a superannuation account?

Opening a superannuation account is simple. When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You might want to provide your tax file number as well – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

What fees do superannuation funds charge?

Superannuation funds can charge a range of fees, including:

  • Activity-based fees – for specific, irregular services, such as splitting an account after a divorce
  • Administration fees – to cover the cost of managing your account
  • Advice fees – for personal investment advice
  • Buy/sell spread fees – when you make contributions, switches and withdrawals
  • Exit fees – when you close your account
  • Investment fees – to cover the cost of managing your investments
  • Switching fees – when you choose a new investment option within the same fund

How much is superannuation?

Superannuation 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.

How many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.

What are personal contributions?

A personal contribution is when you make an extra payment into your superannuation account. The difference between personal contributions and salary sacrifices is that the former comes out of your after-tax income, while the latter comes out of your pre-tax income.

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 you claim superannuation?

There are three different ways you can claim your superannuation:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

Two rules apply if you choose to receive an account-based pension, or income stream:

  • You must receive payments at least once per year
  • You must withdraw a minimum amount per year
    • Age 55-64 = 4%
    • Age 65-74 = 5%
    • Age 75-79 = 6%
    • Age 80-84 = 7%
    • Age 85-89 = 9%
    • Age 90-94 = 11%
    • Age 95+ = 14%

If you want to work out how long your account-based pension might last, click here to access ASIC’s account-based pension calculator.