I have never worked – can I access my superannuation?

09 Jul 2019
Meg Heffron

Meg Heffron

Managing Director

Normally any conversation about accessing superannuation is linked to retirement. But in superannuation, only people who have worked at some point can actually retire – the definition of retirement hinges on ending what’s known as “a gainful employment arrangement” (basically paid work). This quirk means that to retire, one must work first. 

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This is probably a by-product of the history of superannuation – once upon a time, it was very much linked to work. In fact, there was a time when people who didn’t work couldn’t build up superannuation in the first place. These days the rules about putting money into superannuation have broadened to include people who don’t work but there are still some hangovers from the old days when it comes to getting it back out again.

So how does someone who has never had a paid job access their superannuation?

Firstly, anyone who reaches their preservation age (between 55 and 60 depending on when they were born) can access their superannuation via what’s known as a transition to retirement pension. These are superannuation pensions that are quite restricted (there is an upper and lower limit on the amount that can be taken out each year). Most importantly they are available to people who have not retired.

Secondly, anyone who is at least 65 can access their superannuation in any way they wish – they can take all the money out, use it to start a completely unrestricted pension (known as a retirement phase pension), leave it building up in their fund or some combination.

So at worst someone who has never worked will be able to do anything they wish with their superannuation when they get to 65.

But it’s worth being absolutely sure of the facts before assuming that superannuation will not be completely accessible until age 65. There are two definitions of retirement. One of these is that the person:

  • Had a paid job at some point that has ended, and
  • Never intends to work 10 or more hours per week in the future.

To meet the first limb of this definition, it’s actually not important that the work was recent. All that matters is that it occurred at some point and it was paid.

So someone who worked in their teens but never again will still meet the requirement. If they are also over their preservation age and can state truthfully to the trustee of their super fund that they don’t intend to have another paid job in the future, they will be classified as retired despite not having worked for decades.

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