The COVID-19 Early Release Scheme for superannuation officially ended on 31 January 2021.
Starting on 20 April 2020 and closing for new applications on 31 December 2020, the final number of confirmed applications reached $36.4 billion.
That's according to the last round of data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).
That's 98% of all $37.3 billion worth of applications, and fell short of the $42 billion projected by the Treasury.
All up, 3.5 million Australians made a withdrawal via the scheme from over 170 different super fund providers. Around 1.4 million made withdrawals in both round one and two.
On average, $8,268 was withdrawn by those who made a repeat application, and first-time applicants withdrew $7,402.
The early access scheme allowed people to draw upon their own super funds for up to $20,000 in two $10,000 increments, at the height of the financial impact of COVID-19.
Although it initially attracted mostly bipartisan support - with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg saying it would "cushion the impact" of what was to come - it has since garnered some criticism.
Nearly half a million young Australians have drained their super to $0 at the time of writing, and former Prime Minister Paul Keating said more money had been taken out of super by Australia’s lowest-paid people than had been spent by the government on JobSeeker, and that vulnerable people had been forced into "ratting their own savings".
However Liberal MP Tim Wilson said it was up to Australians to control their super and advance their life.
“The early super release scheme has made young Australians realise their super needn’t be controlled by a faceless fund manager,” he said.
Industry Super Australia Chief Executive Bernie Dean on the other hand was critical of the scheme's impact on young people's future, echoing criticism made by others that the Government had effectively privatised its COVID response.
“Super is not a cookie jar for government to raid to solve short-term Budget problems, nor is it for housing," he said.
"Busting into super early comes at a steep cost for the individual and future taxpayers, as a society we shouldn’t be demanding our young people pay the price yet again.”
Which super funds did Aussies withdraw from?
Australians financially impacted by the pandemic - and even many who weren't - mostly tended to raid the big super funds, as APRA's data shows the top 10 funds by assets accounted for 66% of payments made ($23.9 billion).
Australian Super was comfortably the biggest contributor, as Australia's largest super fund approved more than $5 billion in fund withdrawals to its members.
The top 10 super withdrawals made by super fund are as follows:
- Australian Super: $5.02 billion
- SunSuper: $3.67 billion
- REST: $3.35 billion
- HOSTPLUS: $3.10 billion
- United Super: $2.33 billion
- H.E.S.T Australia: $1.82 billion
- BT Funds Management: $1.69 billion
- MLC Super: $1.35 billion
- OnePath Custodians: $1.09 billion
- Super Directions Fund: $1.08 billion
$500 million withdrawn from super on compassionate grounds
Unrelated to the COVID-19 early super withdrawal scheme is the ability for some Australians to apply to release their super on compassionate grounds, which can be done as well as withdrawing:
- With a terminal illness
- With less than $200 in the fund
- As a permanent resident leaving the country
- When in severe financial hardship
- Being incapacitated or disabled (temporarily or permanently)
The latest Australian Taxation Office (ATO) figures show 59,900 applications were made on compassionate grounds in 2019-20, which is a 10% increase on the year before.
About 33,700 of these were approved for a total of $513 million, and the use of such funds included treatments like IVF, dentist work, and weight-loss surgery, as well as palliative care and funeral costs.
A spokesman for Superannuation Minister Jane Hume told the Sydney Morning Herald the early release of superannuation on compassionate grounds is “an important long standing program available in very limited circumstances and where strict eligibility criteria are met."
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