If your super fund screws up, you could be forced to pay up years later

EMPTY WALLET    GENERIC
EMPTY WALLET GENERIC

Imagine this. You decide to retire because, among other things, you believe there is enough money in your super account.

Then, many years down the track, you are contacted by your fund to say an error has been discovered and your true account balance is less than stated.

The latest report by the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal gives some examples, drawn from real cases, where this has happened.

A fund member retired from full-time employment in 2006 and in 2008, she left the fund and used her super balance to start a DIY super fund and to pay off a home renovation loan.

In 2012, the fund discovered the overpayments. Two years later the fund contacted the member to seek repayment.

The member brought a complaint to the Tribunal, questioning the right of the fund to seek reimbursement of the payment six years after she had exited the fund.

The Tribunal found in favour of the super fund in this case.

In another case, in January 2004, the member changed work category with her employer and the fund did not update this information, which meant that the value of her super, which was a defined benefit scheme, was higher than it should have been.

The member accepted a redundancy package from her employer in 2012 and retired.

In 2014, the fund discovered that an overpayment had been made and, after notifying the member, proceeded with the deduction in 2016.

The complainant said if she had known the true account balance in 2012, she would have continued to work. But many years later, it was no longer an option for her to re-enter the workforce.

The Tribunal found the fund had provided incorrect information and the member relied on that information to her detriment; leaving a good-paying job and retiring.

The Tribunal found the complainant had demonstrated a "change of position" as a result of the overpayment and decided the matter in her favour, with the fund repaying the money to the complainant.

For a complainant to win such a case they have to show that they suffered a "change of position" because of the over-payment or that the over-payment caused considerable financial hardship.

This is subject to the statute of limitations. A barrister with a particular knowledge of superannuation told me a superannuation trustee cannot bring a recovery action after 12 years.

He said the 12 years starts at the time the benefit is paid or transferred.

There have been been many super fund mergers and many funds outsource the administration to third parties and sometimes change administrators, where errors can creep in.

It underlines the importance of checking statements to make sure the correct amount is being paid into your account so that any problem can be identified early on, rather than coming as a nasty surprise in retirement.

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This story If your super fund screws up, you could be forced to pay up years later first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.