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  • ATO support for Indigenous Peoples superannuation

    Presentation to The Indigenous Superannuation Summit

    Graham Whyte, Assistant Commissioner, Superannuation and Employer Obligations, ATO

    Tuesday 6 August 2019

    (Check against delivery)


    Acknowledgement of country: I’d like to respectively acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and community. I pay my respect to them and their cultures, and their Elders past and present.

    Thank you for inviting me to today’s Summit. The Indigenous Superannuation Summit is great opportunity for Government and Industry to work together to enhance the client experience for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander1 people.

    The ATO’s Kawutilin Ally network

    While I recognise today’s focus is superannuation, I wanted to briefly note some of the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) work to support Indigenous reconciliation and capacity building.

    The Kawutilin (pronounced Ka-woo-tilin) Ally network was established to support inclusion in the ATO by offering more support to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce through an informal network of local Allies. I am proud to say that I am one of those Allies. I joined the Ally network to show my support for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues.

    There are now over 550 Allies across the ATO. This achievement is a practical example of our successful efforts and our staff’s positive contribution towards reconciliation.

    Kawutilin means 'coming together' in the language of the Wonnarua people, the traditional owners of the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. This language was selected to represent reconciliation and inclusion for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

    The network represents the ATO's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce, compliments the local Moondani networks and supports the ATO's efforts towards inclusion.

    As part of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy the ATO was set a target of achieving a 2.5% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation rate. I am very pleased to be able to announce that we have achieved that target.

    Achieving this milestone has come about because different parts of the ATO have worked together, with some focus over several years, which is a result of ongoing embedded retention strategies, engagement and employment opportunities for existing employees.

    In addition, since its inception in 2013, 51 ATO employees have participated in the Jawan immersion program in 10 regions across Australia.

    Further, we are encouraging our staff to undertake cultural awareness training. For 2018 to 2020, we have increased the target for employees completing cultural awareness training from 5% to 20%.

    The Indigenous client experience – engagement and access

    A key focus for the ATO is improving the superannuation experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are working with both Government and non-Government partners to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are getting the full value of the superannuation system.

    We understand that there are a number of issues that impact on Indigenous people’s participation in the superannuation system, including but not limited to, engagement/access, levels of financial literacy, understanding and a lack of understanding of members cultural norms and Identification. These have been raised in the context of the Super Members Inclusion Code discussions2. I will cover what we are doing to address these issues.

    Super is about people and their future. It is important for individuals to keep track of their superannuation, as this can be important for the level of retirement income that may be achievable over and above the Age Pension. Individuals should be aware of what super accounts they have, how much is being contributed, and what insurance may be provided through these accounts.

    We are using a number of 'channels' to engage with Indigenous people. We are providing online services, a dedicated phone hotline and face-to-face engagement in remote areas.

    Through our work, we are educating people about managing their super using ATO Online services, which can be accessed via myGov.

    An individual can check and manage their super using the ATO Online services on myGov. This allows, amongst other things, for an individual to:

    • see details of all their active and closed super accounts (since 1 July 2018)
    • find super accounts that they may have lost track of
    • combine multiple super accounts
    • view their employer contributions
    • apply for release of super on compassionate grounds.

    The ATO understands that difficulties with remoteness, internet access and language impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s access3. In recognition of these difficulties, we use a tailored approach to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

    Our Indigenous Helpline, which has been operating since December 2011, is a service that is largely purposed to serve the needs of Indigenous Australians. Our staff on this Helpline understand that some Indigenous people may have difficulty proving their identity, and can support them through these challenges. In 2018–19, there were over 19,500 inbound calls to the Helpline. From 1 July to 29 July 2019, there have been almost 6,000 calls to the Helpline.4

    The ATO also runs a Tax Help program with ATO trained community volunteers providing help to fellow community members. This year training was provided to volunteers in Galiwinku Elcho Island, Tennant Creek and Moogji communities.

    The ATO has taken an active role in face-to-face initiatives for our Indigenous Australians. We continue to participate in the First Nations Foundation’s ‘Big Super Day Out’ events and ASIC’s Indigenous Outreach Program.

    In Mid-July this year, we participated in First Nations Foundation’s Big Super Day Out Events in Darwin, Kununurra and Broome, which resulted in more than 170 people reconnecting with over $4.37 million in super. This is a fantastic outcome.

    In early July this year, we also participated in Big Super Day Out events with QSuper on Thursday Island. The ATO representative noted that:

    • the capacity to show clients what their personal view would look like if they were registered with myGov and linked to ATO online was a valuable education tool
    • the ability to provide advice on a range of queries including super, debts incurred, compassionate release as well as lost and unclaimed super was well received.

    We will again partner with First Nations Foundation later in August to participate in their second Big Super Day Out event in East Arnhem Land.

    We undertook some great activities last year as well.

    In June 2018, as part of NAIDOC celebrations we partnered with First Nations Foundation attending events in Cairns, Brisbane, Aurukun, Hopevale and Palm Island.

    In May 2018, we supported the ASIC Indigenous Outreach program in a visit to the remote community of the APY Lands in South Australia (along with DHS, AUSTRAC, MoneyMob, First Nations Foundation and various APRA-regulated funds), drawing attention to basic superannuation literacy/education, providing on the ground assistance to individuals to find their super, helping to consolidate multiple accounts and explain the consequences of accessing super early or upon retirement.

    Over five days the ATO served close to 500 individuals and engaged with many under the age of 25 on the important role super plays in our society and for the individual. The ATO managed to search and find over $3.5 million of super accounts for individuals and assist them to consolidate many of these multiple accounts.

    At these events we provide assistance to Indigenous Australians to re-unite them with their lost super, assist them to consolidate multiple accounts, and provide education on their entitlements. Assistance provided through these programs and events can have life changing outcomes for people.

    In one of our remote community visits, we helped a woman approaching retirement discover she had over $120,000 in super of which she was unaware. In another case, a man discovered he had accumulated more than $170,000 in super; he used it to purchase his first home.

    In February and August last year the ATO visited Point Pearce on the Yorke Peninsula (South Australia) in order to help community members find and consolidate their super. Most people that were assisted had two or three super accounts to consolidate.

    Feedback provided from community members has been that many were not aware they had several super accounts. This is proving a common theme, and will be an ongoing challenge for the ATO going forward across Australia.

    During Tax Time 2019, the ATO Pop-up Office program will visit 26 areas around Australia. This includes 17 in regional and remote locations – including, Alice Springs and Port Hedland to name just two – half of these locations have been identified as having a significant Indigenous population. Our field services staff come to these events prepared with their iPads and Virtual Desk Pad access to provide a more personalised experience and greater assistance to clients. They can assist clients in a face-to-face setting to connect with their superannuation.

    We are also contributing to increasing superannuation literacy and understanding of Indigenous people. For example, the ATO contributed to a seven episode educational radio program for Indigenous Australians that discusses the basics of super and insurance as they relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The program has recently aired in the Northern Territory through the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

    Topical issues

    Deceased estates

    With the ATO’s focus on improving the super experience for the indigenous community the ATO has reviewed and improved its disclosure of information procedures with respect to relatives of deceased estates and the Identification issues. We understand that this can be a very difficult time for relatives and at this time of sorry business.

    To assist staff the ATO has produced an 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Protocols Guide' for managers and staff which provides information about culturally significant events and dates and respectful communication.

    The ATO knows that the process of finding and claiming super for deceased estates can be very difficult, particularly for those living in remote areas. To improve access to super accounts for relatives of Indigenous deceased estates we’ve changed our procedures to allow the release of information where the deceased member is listed on our Lost Members Register or the Unclaimed Super Money Register.

    Where a deceased member is not on those registers and there is a super account in existence that is held by funds, we work closely with industry to ensure relatives are informed of the existence of such accounts.

    Lost and unclaimed super

    We continue to undertake activities to assist clients to engage with their lost or ATO held super. This is a significant issue for indigenous people. The compulsory Super Guarantee system has been in place for 27 years. Anyone who has worked in that time may have super that they have become disconnected with.

    During the last financial year (1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019), over 537,000 accounts to the value of $4.38 billion have been consolidated or transferred by fund members using the ATO online services; accessed via myGov.

    A member may become lost when they are either:

    • uncontactable – the fund has lost contact with the member and the account hasn’t received a contribution or rollover for 12 months, or
    • inactive – where an account hasn’t received a contribution or rollover in five years.

    At 30 June 2018, funds reported they held 579,722 lost superannuation accounts worth $13.5 billion. This has decreased by nearly 8% from the 628,658 accounts worth $14.1 billion held by funds in 2016-17.

    We undertake a number of activities to help members reunite with their lost super. Our annual postcode data campaign, released on 11 October 2018, generated significant media coverage and raise awareness of superannuation in the community5.

    As a result of this campaign, use of the ATO Online service increased as more than 66,000 people used the system to find and consolidate over 105,000 accounts worth more than $860 million.

    We also support superannuation funds to be able to reunite their members with their superannuation. We provide superannuation funds with the most recent member contact details reported to us when the fund reports a member as lost. This process is happening on a regular and automated basis since the implementation of Member Account Attribute Service (MAAS).

    Funds also have the option of building the ‘Provision of Details Service’ (PODS) which can be used to obtain current contact details that we hold for members at risk of becoming lost. Between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019, we responded to approximately 1.1 million PODS requests for contact details.

    Small lost superannuation accounts under $6,000 are transferred to the ATO as unclaimed superannuation money (USM).

    As at 2 July 2019, we hold 5.39 million accounts worth $3.98 billion. This consists of:

    • 5.07 million USM accounts worth $3.86 billion.
    • 324,232 Superannuation Holding Accounts special account (SHAsa) worth $112.86 million.

    We have undertaken a number of pro-active campaigns to encourage people to take action and claim their ATO held super:

    • In April this year we contacted 78,000 individuals with a myGov account linked to the ATO, via email. In the two months following the campaign, 14% of individuals have taken action claiming $14 million.
    • In April 2018, we issued 80,000 emails, 10,000 letters and 10,000 SMS to 100,000 individuals. In the six months following the campaign, 30% of individuals have taken action claiming $81 million.

    We also have ongoing communication and marketing strategies to draw attention to and encourage individuals to keep track of their superannuation via ATO Online services (accessed via myGov account). These include:

    • social media campaigns (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
    • web content
    • online videos, including foreign language videos on
    • printed material distributed at community and business events.

    These activities aim to draw attention to the issue and encourage individuals to access ATO online (via their myGov account) to check and reconnect with their superannuation accounts.

    Protecting your Super package and ‘low balance accounts’

    The Treasury Laws Amendment (Protecting Your Superannuation Package) Act 2019 received royal assent on 12 March 2019. The law introduces a number of initiatives to protect individuals’ retirement savings from fee erosion and unnecessary insurance.

    Under the legislation, the Commissioner can proactively reunite people with the unclaimed super amounts. Specifically as part of the ATO accountability under the new law is the administration of the legislative changes which introduced a new power that allows the ATO to initiate a transfer of ATO-held unclaimed super money to an active account of the individual.

    Subject to the reporting from funds, from October this year, we will commence the proactive reunification process.

    This new ability to reunite people with their lost or unclaimed super has some more positives for individuals. It also assists in reducing multiple accounts and protecting individual accounts from fee erosion and unnecessary insurance thereby improving people’s retirement balance.

    Teaching super to youth in schools to increase superannuation literacy and understanding

    The ATO has a long-standing schools education program. The program plays an important role in educating young Australians about the importance of taxation and superannuation systems to Australia’s way of life.

    The ATO’s vision is for every child to understand and value Australia’s tax and super system prior to participating in them. The vision aligns to the ATO’s strategic objectives and is achieved by a co-ordinated program of work that focuses on the following:

    • influencing the National and State Curriculums, with a view to tax and super is taught to all students by the time they leave school
    • redesigning our products and services to make them contemporary and easy to teach
    • ensuring our program and resources are accepted and accessible to teachers, parents, and other key stakeholders.

    Without sufficient knowledge about tax and super, young people are leaving school without the confidence and understanding necessary to make decisions that are in their best interest and interests of the system.

    Young people are more likely to have multiple jobs and may open a new super account each time they start a new job, resulting in multiple low balance accounts, multiplication of fees and unnecessary insurance. Education is therefore an important component in making the right financial decision that will maximise savings for the future.

    Compassionate release

    An individual may be able to access some of their superannuation prior to retirement age on compassionate grounds.

    On 1 July 2018, the administrative responsibility for the compassionate release of super transferred from the Department of Human Services to the ATO.

    As the ATO already administers other releases of superannuation benefits and is responsible for most individuals’ interactions with the superannuation system, the transfer builds on the existing relationships the ATO has with the super system.

    The individual can apply to access their super on the following grounds:

    • medical treatment and medical transport for an individual or their dependant
    • palliative care for an individual or their dependant
    • making a payment on a loan or council rates so the individual doesn’t lose their home
    • modifying a home or vehicle, or buying disability aids for the individual or their dependant because of a severe disability
    • expenses associated with a death, funeral or burial for a dependant.

    To be eligible for compassionate release of super the individual:

    • must meet the eligibility requirements for the compassionate ground that they are applying for
    • must have not paid for the expense
    • cannot afford to pay the expense without accessing their super
    • is a citizen or permanent resident of Australia or New Zealand
    • must provide all required supporting evidence and invoices/quotes.

    In 2018–19, the ATO processed over 53,000 applications for compassionate release with an approval rate of approximately 58%.

    The future

    The ATO will continue to partner with First Nations Foundation, including their Big Super Day Out events. We will also continue to engage with ASIC’s Outreach program. We will engage with Indigenous people through all our 'channels' and will continue to offer a tailored approach.

    Working together has the greatest impact and provides the best experience for Indigenous people.

    I look forward to the ATO’s continued participation in the Indigenous Superannuation Working Group; the ATO is committed to looking for opportunities to improve the client experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

    1 The terms 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' will be used interchangeably with 'indigenous' when referring to both mainland and Torres Strait Islander individuals.

    2 See Indigenous Superannuation Working Group – Super Members Inclusion Code – Purpose and scope Version 1 - 17 July 2019.

    3 According to the Indigenous Remote Communications Association in 2015 over 75% of remote Indigenous households still had no access to Internet.

    4 Includes inbound calls only.

    5 Lost and Unclaimed super by location as at 30 June 2018 is published on

    Last modified: 07 Aug 2019QC 59845