The ATO has released its application form for the early release of superannuation by individuals impacted by COVID-19. From 20 April, an individual can make one application to access up to $10,000 (tax-free) in the 2019–2020 financial year (ie they must make the application by 30 June 2020). A second application for up to $10,000 can be made in the 2020–2021 year (ie from 1 July 2020) until 24 September 2020. 

An application can be made by:

  • the member authenticating themselves through the myGov website and completing the application form in ATO Online; or
  • for those who are unable to access online services, the individual calling the ATO, confirming their identity and completing the application over the phone.

The application form requires the person to certify that they are eligible and includes information about the consequences of making false applications. The individual will then proceed to:

  • review a list of open accounts they have and the last account balance reported for each account (in most cases at 30 June 2019);
  • input the amount they would like to release from each account – the total amount cannot exceed $10,000, but there are otherwise no limitations on what the individual can input;
  • input the details of the bank account (account name, BSB and number) they would like the money paid into; and
  • authorise the ATO to provide the information to the super fund and the super fund to release the money into that account.

The ATO has run a social media campaign asking people to observe the intention of the legislation and only apply to release their super to deal with the adverse economic effects of COVID-19. For example, the ATO says taxpayers should not withdraw their super early and recontribute it to gain a personal tax deduction.

Individuals have been able to login into myGov and register interest in the coronavirus early release of super measure with the ATO. The ATO has been contacting these individuals via SMS or email now that the application form is available to complete. As at 2 April 2020, 361,000 individuals had registered an interest in the measure.

Eligible individuals should carefully check their super account balances to ensure there are sufficient funds available to claim. If a member makes an application and the fund has insufficient money to fulfil the application, the ATO says the member will not be able to make a second application for the balance from another fund/account in that financial year. They will also not able to seek the balance in the 2020–2021 financial year above the $10,000 cap.

If an application is rejected by the ATO, the member will be notified via their MyGov account in two to three days.

Notification process for super funds

It will take one to two business days for super funds to receive notifications directly from the ATO about their members, with funds expecting to start receiving notifications from 21 April 2020. The ATO will be providing the details to funds in an electronic data file that funds will need to download via the Bulk Data Exchange (BDE) channel and process. The government expects funds to process the payments and release the amounts to individuals "as soon as possible". The current process for existing categories of compassionate release of super will continue as is.

The ATO and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) have confirmed that super funds will be able to rely on the ATO's customer verification under a proposed anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) regime rule.

Separate arrangements will apply for applications by members of self managed super funds (SMSFs). The ATO will issue a determination to the member (instead of the super fund) advising of their eligibility to release an amount. When the SMSF receives the determination from the member, the SMSF trustee is then authorised to make the payment.

Unclaimed super payment deferral

The ATO will grant super funds a deferral of the scheduled statement day and payment day for 31 December unclaimed money day accounts. The 30 April 2020 due date will be deferred to 31 October 2020.

The ATO is providing this deferral to allow funds to focus on assisting members who may be looking to release amounts from their super under the coronavirus condition for early release. The deferral extends the period within which unclaimed superannuation money (USM) accounts can be reported and paid. Any fund wanting to continue with their USM reporting as planned can do so. Funds may want to consider continuing reporting and paying USM for certain categories (such as where a member is 65 years or older) where it would be in the member's interests. The ATO said it will not proceed with hyper-care arrangements for this USM period (including proactive consolidation).

Electronic release authority statements

During the COVID-19 period, the ATO says it will allow super funds to submit electronically release authority statements (RASs) and end benefit notices (EBNs) in relation to the First Home Super Saver (FHSS) scheme and excess contributions, and for Div 293 purposes.

Super accounts available for release

A member can request amounts up to a total of $10,000 from multiple funds at the application stage, as follows:

  • The available fund accounts (excluding those in retirement phase) will be displayed via myGov and the member can choose multiple accounts and the amount to be approved for release from each account.
  • There are no restrictions on the amount a person can request for release from any account, except the $10,000 overall yearly limit.
  • A member can request more than the account balance displayed to them in the application.
  • There is a limit of $10,000 in the one application per financial year.

A member cannot add a new fund to myGov when applying; only matched accounts reported to the ATO through the Member Account Attribute Service (MAAS) will be displayed.

The application form will display all open accounts except those in retirement phase. A member can only apply for one determination per financial year. For example, a member can request $1,000 from one fund and another $9,000 from another fund as long as they do so in the same application. Members will not be able to make a subsequent application if they do not request or receive the full amount approved in their first application for that financial year.

Proportioning rule

While a released amount is non-assessable non-exempt income (NANE) for the individual, the ATO notes that the payment is subject to the proportioning rule in s 307-125 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (ITAA 1997). Therefore, individuals with multiple super accounts still need to consider the underlying tax components of their different super interests when choosing which accounts to release from.

Generally, a taxpayer with multiple super interests should consider nominating the release amount to be paid from the interest with the largest taxable component. However, take care if looking to maintain an unrestricted non-preserved component, as any benefit payment from a particular super interest will be cashed out first from the unrestricted non-preserved component.

For accounts where a member's tax-free component is actually higher than the entire accumulation balance itself (as a result of negative returns), it may be helpful to maintain some of that interest in the accumulation phase so that it can be used to absorb any future investment earnings (which would otherwise be effectively added to the taxable component). However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so it is necessary to consider the operation of the proportioning rule on the future payment of benefits for a member's particular circumstances.

Pension accounts

The ATO notes that super amounts cannot be released from a pension account under the coronavirus early access condition of release.

The recent amendments to allow early access to super under the coronavirus condition of release do not vary the circumstances in which pension payments may be made from a transition to retirement income stream (TRIS), or the circumstances in which an amount commuted from a TRIS can be cashed out of the superannuation fund. Hence, the ATO says no amounts in excess of what is already allowed to be cashed from a TRIS can be released under the coronavirus condition.

However, a member whose TRIS comprises preserved or restricted non-preserved benefits may be able to commute the TRIS back to the accumulation phase within the superannuation fund (in accordance with the rules of the fund and the pension). In this case, the ATO says the preserved and restricted non-preserved amounts may then be eligible to be released under the coronavirus condition for early release. As an individual can only apply once in each financial year, it is important to first commute a pension amount back to accumulation before applying to the ATO.

Payment by fund

Funds are required to make the payment tax-free "as soon as practicable". The ATO acknowledges that there may be occasions when a fund will need to contact the member to meet that obligation. In those scenarios, a fund can use the ATO's provision of details (POD) service to obtain current contact details for a member.

Funds are not required to issue PAYG statements showing a proportion of the payment to be taxable component – untaxed element. The payment is not a "withholding payment" and an amount is not required to be withheld from the payment as it is NANE (s 12-1(1A) of Sch 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953). There is no requirement to report back to the ATO where a fund is unable to pay part or all of the money requested under the early release provisions.

The ATO will makes determinations based on self-assessment, but if a fund identifies a case suspected to be at high risk of fraud, it should be reported to the ATO for confirmation of the best approach to manage it. Any compliance activity will be followed up by the ATO directly with the individual.

Non-regulated funds and defined benefit funds

Members of non-regulated funds will need to apply directly to their own scheme/fund for early release of super. If an individual applies to the ATO for the release of an amount from an exempt public sector superannuation scheme (EPSSS), the ATO will process the application, make a determination and send a notification to the EPSSS. It will be up to the EPSSS to decide how to respond to the notification and what action to take.

When an individual applies, they will be presented with all open accounts that are not in retirement phase. This will include defined benefit accounts. The ATO will process the application and notify the defined benefit fund. It is up to the defined benefit fund to decide whether or not to release the amount. As an individual can only apply once in each financial year, it is important to first check whether a defined benefit fund can or will release amounts before applying to the ATO.

ATO-held super

An individual cannot apply for a determination to release super amount held by the ATO. If the individual is not eligible for a direct payment of ATO-held super, they will need to request a transfer of the ATO-held super into an account held by a super provider on their behalf before requesting its release.