The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Media Release of 25/02/2004

NO.011

A MORE FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTABLE RETIREMENT INCOME SYSTEM

The Treasurer released today a policy paper outlining several measures to improve the accessibility, flexibility and integrity of the retirement income system and reduce red tape.

This paper highlights the importance of the need for people to prepare and plan for the lifestyle in retirement they desire.

The combination of the age pension and Superannuation Guarantee savings will allow Australians to retire with higher living standards than previously. However, many people will want a higher level of retirement income than the age pension and their compulsory superannuation savings will provide. The Government encourages people who want a higher retirement income to plan for their retirement and consider what actions they can take to help achieve their expectations. Making voluntary superannuation contributions or deferring retirement can significantly improve a person’s lifestyle in retirement.

The tax concessions provided to superannuation assist Australians to achieve their retirement income goals. The Government believes every Australian should have the opportunity to make contributions into a superannuation fund. Therefore, from 1 July 2004 the work test on who can contribute to superannuation will be removed for anyone under the age of 65.

The skills and experience of older Australians make them valuable employees with much to contribute. Their contribution to the workforce will become more important as the population ages. Superannuation needs to become more adaptable to the work preferences of older Australians. From 1 July 2005 people will be able to access their superannuation as a non-commutable income stream once they have reached their preservation age. This will allow people who wish to remain in the workforce, but reduce their hours of work as they get older, to supplement their income with superannuation. In addition, the work test for people aged between 65 and 74 will be simplified from a weekly to an annual test. An annual test is consistent with flexible working arrangements, such as irregular part-time or short term contract work, which older Australians may prefer.

Currently, certain income streams qualify for a higher reasonable benefit limit and a social security assets test exemption. These income streams are commonly referred to as complying income streams. The Government has decided that complying status will be extended to market-linked income streams purchased from 20September 2004, which satisfy particular requirements. These new products will require an orderly draw down of capital over the life expectancy of the purchaser and cannot be commuted. The introduction of these products will give retirees more choice in how they can finance their retirement.

The Government has also reviewed the current social security assets test exemption for complying income streams. The Government is concerned that this exemption has enabled people with significant assets to claim an age pension. This is inconsistent with the intended role of the age pension to support people who have not been able to fully save for their retirement.

To better balance the objectives of the age pension with the need for incentives to purchase income streams that require an orderly draw down of capital, the Government will reduce the current 100 per cent assets test exemption for purchased complying income streams to a 50 per cent exemption for products purchased on or after 20 September 2004. Complying income streams purchased before this date will continue to be fully exempt from the assets test.

In addition to simplifying the superannuation work tests, the Government will also remove the unnecessary impost on providers of allocated pensions to obtain an actuarial certificate for tax purposes. This will also apply to providers of the new complying market-linked income stream. These measures will reduce red tape and regulatory costs on superannuation providers.

Finally, a number of measures are being introduced to improve the integrity of the retirement income system. These measures will simplify the Superannuation Guarantee notional earnings bases, require superannuation funds to cash benefits for people once they reach age 75, and preserve employers eligible termination payments which are rolled over into a superannuation fund, approved deposit fund or retirement savings account.

Details of these initiatives are outlined in the attached document.

Copies of A more flexible and adaptable retirement income system are available on the website http://demographics.treasury.gov.au

25 February 2004

Media enquiries:
David Alexander
Treasurer’s Office
02 6277 7340

Technical enquiries:

Superannuation changes
Patrick Boneham
Department of Treasury
02 6263 3393

Assets test income stream changes
Alex Dolan
Department of Family and Community Services
02 6244 6068


RETIREMENT INCOME INITIATIVES

Removing the work test for superannuation contributions before age 65

Historically, superannuation has been aimed at providing working people with a vehicle to save for their retirement. Accordingly, only people who are, or recently have been in the workforce can make superannuation contributions. The general rule is that to make superannuation contributions, a person below age 65 must have worked at least 10 hours in a week sometime in the past two years.

Because superannuation assists Australians to achieve their retirement income goals, the Government is making superannuation available to more Australians. Policies such as allowing contributions on behalf of low-income spouses and introducing child accounts have provided more people with the opportunity to share in the benefits of superannuation for the first time. Also, when a marriage breaks down, superannuation can be split enabling non-working spouses to hold superannuation in their own name.

Every Australian should be able to save for their retirement in a prudentially supervised and concessionally taxed environment. Therefore, from 1 July 2004, the work test on who can contribute to superannuation will be removed for anyone under the age of 65. This also will simplify an important part of the superannuation system.

People who become eligible to contribute to superannuation as a result of this measure also may be able to claim a tax deduction for their contributions. To ensure this opportunity is not abused, people under 18 must satisfy a work test in the year they contribute to qualify for a deduction.

Simplifying the work test rules for those aged over 65

Additional work rules apply to people aged 65 and over. The work test is consistent with superannuation’s intended role as a retirement income vehicle. The rules apply to when a person can make superannuation contributions and when a superannuation fund must pay out benefits. People aged 65 to 74 must work at least 10 hours in each week to be eligible to make contributions; a superannuation fund must also pay out a member’s benefits if they fail this test.

Work opportunities for people over 65 are likely to increase as the population ages. However, the current weekly work test is too stringent and does not accommodate more flexible working arrangements, such as seasonal and irregular part-time work. It also imposes an administrative burden on individuals and superannuation funds.

From 1 July 2004 the Government will change the contribution and cashing rules for people aged 65 to 74 to an annual work test so these rules are consistent with current and future work trends. The Government will consult with the industry and community on an appropriate work test.

Making it easier for individuals in the transition to retirement

A person below age 65 must retire or leave employment before they can access their superannuation benefits. This rule may lead to people deciding to retire prematurely just so they can access their superannuation. The rule does not adequately cater for more flexible workplace arrangements where people may choose to reduce their work hours as they get older. Such arrangements are likely to become more prevalent.

In recognition of this, people who have not retired will be able to access their superannuation as a non-commutable income stream once they reach their superannuation preservation age.

This measure will provide people with more flexibility in developing strategies in their transition to retirement. For example, a person might choose to continue to work with their employer on a part-time basis, and use part of their superannuation to supplement their income instead of leaving the workforce altogether.

This policy will commence on 1 July 2005. This timing will allow for consultation with the superannuation industry and community about the characteristics of the non-commutable income stream and for the industry to develop and have these products on the market. Other aspects of the policy, including whether there is a need for limits on the amount a person can access will also need to be settled during consultation.

Increased choice and competition in the income streams market

As people live longer, they are likely to spend more years in retirement. Given the significant tax concessions provided to superannuation, it is important that superannuation benefits are used to support living standards in retirement. Taking benefits as an income stream is a good way to achieve this support.

There are a number of tax and social security concessions to encourage people to purchase an income stream. Different concessions apply to different types of income streams based on their characteristics. For example:

  • Complying income streams attract both a social security assets test exemption and tax concessions (including the higher pension reasonable benefit limit). These concessions are provided because these income streams require an orderly draw down of capital over a person’s lifetime or life expectancy. The person must forgo access to their capital in exchange for the income stream. This means the person cannot access the capital supporting the income stream as a lump sum (ie, they are non-commutable).
  • Allocated income streams are more flexible than complying income streams: a person can commute the income stream at any time and determine their annual income within a defined range. As allocated pensions do not require an orderly drawdown of capital throughout retirement, they do not qualify for the social security exemption or the higher pension reasonable benefit limit. However, like complying income streams, they receive a 15 per cent tax offset.

The Government will extend ‘complying’ status to new market-linked income stream products which require an orderly draw down of capital over a person’s life expectancy. These products will be non-commutable and will restrict payments to a set proportion of the account balance. These characteristics are regarded as necessary for a product to be given ‘complying’ status.

Unlike existing complying income streams, market linked products will not provide a guaranteed income stream for the term of the product. The amount of income each year can rise or fall depending on the value of the investments supporting the pension. As the income stream is not guaranteed, some superannuation funds will be able to provide complying income streams for the first time, increasing both choice and competition within the ‘complying’ income stream market.

The higher pension reasonable benefit limit and a 50 per cent assets test exemption will apply to these products purchased on or after 20September 2004. This will allow industry time to develop and have these products on the market.

Change to assets test exemption for complying income streams

The social security means test consists of separate income and assets tests. These tests help keep the age pension affordable and sustainable by requiring people with significant resources to draw on them before calling on the community for assistance through the age pension. The assets test aims to restrict wealthier individuals from accessing the age and service pensions. The assets test has generous free areas and cut-out points. A home-owning couple is still eligible for some age pension under the assets test if they have up to $466,500 in assessable assets (in addition to their home).

The current assets test exemption for complying income streams is a very generous concession. It enables wealthy individuals with assets substantially above the assets test thresholds to obtain an age pension. This is inconsistent with the intended role of the age pension to provide retirement income for people who have not been able to fully save for their retirement.

To better balance the objectives of the age pension with the need for incentives to purchase particular income streams, the Government will reduce the current 100 per cent exemption for purchased complying income streams to a 50 per cent assets test exemption for products purchased on or after 20 September 2004. A 50 per cent assets test exemption is still a generous concession. Complying income streams purchased before this date will not be affected by this change and will continue to qualify for a 100 per cent assets test exemption. This means that no person will have their current age or service pension reduced on the introduction of this change.

Superannuation benefits for people over 75

Substantial tax concessions are provided to superannuation to encourage people to save for their retirement. People can now make superannuation contributions until they turn 75, allowing them to take advantage of the superannuation tax concessions to accumulate more for their retirement. These concessions assume people will draw down on their superannuation benefits later in their lives.

People aged 75 and over cannot contribute to superannuation unless an award requires it. However, a person who works at least 30hours a week can keep their benefits in a superannuation fund past this age. This means they may not have to access their accumulated superannuation benefits at all during their lives.

The current rule could allow superannuation to be used specifically for estate planning rather than retirement income purposes, which is inconsistent with the purpose of providing tax concessions to superannuation. To ensure people do access their superannuation, the law will be amended so superannuation funds start paying benefits to a person, as soon as practicable after they reach age 75 either as a lump sum or an income stream. This will not apply to people over 75 who still receive superannuation contributions under an industrial award. This measure will commence on 1 July 2004.

Preservation of rolled-over employer eligible termination payments

A person generally cannot access their superannuation benefits unless they have reached their preservation age and have retired. Since 1 July 1999, all new contributions to superannuation have been preserved to ensure superannuation savings are used for their intended purpose of supporting retirement income.

The general rule relating to the preservation of contributions does not apply to employer eligible termination payments that have been rolled over into a superannuation fund (for example, a redundancy benefit paid by an employer). As a result, such benefits can be withdrawn from a superannuation fund before preservation age, despite the fact they benefit from tax concessions which are intended to support their use for retirement income purposes.

The Government will remove this anomaly so that all employer eligible termination payments which are rolled over into superannuation from 1 July 2004 are preserved. The change will not affect employer eligible termination payments rolled over before that date.

Simplifying the superannuation guarantee notional earnings bases

The Superannuation Guarantee requires employers to provide superannuation support for their employees. The minimum support required is 9per cent of an employee’s notional earnings base. For most employees, the notional earnings base is remuneration earned in their normal working hours (without payments for overtime). This is commonly referred to as ordinary time earnings.

The Superannuation Guarantee legislation allows some employers to pay superannuation on an earnings base that existed back in 1991 before the Superannuation Guarantee was introduced. This means an employee can be paid lower superannuation contributions than another employee in similar circumstances. This can have a significant impact on this person’s standard of living in retirement.

To ensure all employees are treated in a consistent manner for Superannuation Guarantee purposes, the Government will remove these lower earnings bases. Ordinary time earnings will be the earnings base for determining Superannuation Guarantee liability for all employees. Employers affected by this change will have until 1 July 2010 to meet this requirement.

Actuarial certificates for account-based income streams

Superannuation funds receive a tax exemption on the income they receive from assets supporting their current pension liabilities. To qualify for this tax exemption the fund must obtain an actuarial certificate stating that the assets are needed to meet the fund’s pension liabilities. This certificate ensures that funds do not overstate the value of assets supporting current pensions to receive a tax advantage.

Superannuation funds which only pay allocated pensions also must obtain an actuarial certificate to qualify for the tax exemption. Unlike traditional defined benefit pensions (for example pensions payable for life), allocated pensions are similar to a bank account with the amount of income that can be drawn depending on the amount of assets in the account. Where a fund only pays an allocated pension and holds no other pension assets, an actuarial certificate is not needed as the fund’s entire pension assets are being used to support pensions.

The Government will remove the requirement for a superannuation fund to obtain an actuarial certificate for assets supporting allocated pensions, and the new complying market-linked pensions, from the 2004-05 financial year. This will reduce compliance costs for pension providers.