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Access on compassionate grounds – what you need to know

Eligibility criteria, required evidence, what you need to do before applying to access super on compassionate grounds.

Last updated 8 January 2024

Overview

There are limited circumstances where you can access your super on compassionate grounds to meet expenses for you or your dependant. Under the law, the ATO has no discretion to vary the conditions under which you can access your super early.

You may be able to have super released on compassionate grounds to meet expenses for:

  • medical treatment for you or your dependant
  • medical transport for you or your dependant
  • modifying your home or vehicle to accommodate special needs arising from your or your dependant's severe disability
  • palliative care for your or your dependant's terminal illness
  • death, funeral or burial expenses for your dependant
  • preventing foreclosure or forced sale of your home.

For more information, see Expenses eligible for release on compassionate grounds.

Applications for the compassionate release of super generally need to be for an unpaid expense, however, if you have borrowed money to pay for the expense, you may be able to access your super to repay the outstanding balance of the borrowed amount.

These circumstances don't include meeting general day-to-day expenses in hardship situations. In these situations, you may be able to access your super, but there are different rules, and you apply directly to your super fund.

When you apply, ensure you attach all the required evidence so your application can be assessed as quickly as possible. Applications that are not accompanied by all the required documentary evidence may be delayed or not approved.

As your application may not be approved, we recommend you wait for the outcome and receive payment from your fund before you book the treatment or services you have applied for.

Things to consider

Accessing your super early will reduce your super balance. This may affect your:

  • future retirement income
  • income protection insurance
  • life and total and permanent disability insurance cover
  • family tax benefit
  • child support payments.

Make sure you understand your options and the financial impacts of accessing your super before applying. Consider getting financial advice.

You can start with these free services:

How tax applies

The super you withdraw on compassionate grounds is paid and taxed as a normal super lump sum. For more information, see Tax on super benefits. The tax rate depends on various factors, including your age, your preservation age and the components of the super lump sum.

Super that is released early will generally count towards your assessable income for income tax purposes. You need to include any taxable amounts in your tax return.

What you need to do before applying

Before you apply for early release of super on compassionate grounds, work through these steps to check what you need to do if:

  • you're seeking to access your super to pay for an expense for yourself, you'll need to find out if you're eligible.
  • you're applying to pay for someone else's expenses, there are additional eligibility requirements.
  • you meet the eligibility requirements you'll then need to understand what evidence you need to provide.

Contact your super fund

Before applying to us for compassionate release of your super, you must contact your super fund to

  • confirm they will release your super early on compassionate grounds
  • confirm there is sufficient money in your account to cover both the expense and the tax withholding amount (which generally is up to 32% of the amount being withdrawn)
  • check if there will be any fees for releasing your super early under compassionate grounds
  • understand the implications on any insurance attached to your accounts.

If you're a member of an exempt public sector super scheme, do not apply to us unless your scheme has directed you to. In most cases, you'll need to apply directly to your scheme for early release of super. These schemes are subject to state and territory laws on early release of super.

If you have a self-managed super fund (SMSF), you still need our approval to access your super early under compassionate release of super. Be aware that some advisers claim you can get early access to your super by transferring it into a SMSF. These schemes are illegal and there are heavy penalties if you participate. For more information, see Illegal early access to super.

Eligibility for compassionate release of super

We can only approve a release of your super if you meet all the conditions listed below:

  • Condition 1 – you are or have been a citizen or permanent resident of Australia or New Zealand if
    • you are currently a temporary resident, you cannot meet this condition and you're not eligible to apply.
    • you were a temporary resident and are not a current Australian or New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, you cannot meet this condition and you're not eligible to apply (but you may be eligible to be paid your super in the form of a Departing Australia superannuation payment).
  • Condition 2 – you meet the eligibility requirements of the specific compassionate ground that you’re applying for.- see Expenses eligible for release on compassionate grounds.
  • Condition 3 – you or your dependants' expense is unpaid or has been paid as a result of you borrowing money which remains outstanding.
    • where you or your dependant have borrowed money to pay the expense, you can only apply to repay any outstanding amounts from the amount borrowed and additional documents will need to be provided as part of your application.
  • Condition 4 – you can’t afford to pay part or all of the expense without accessing your super. That is, you can't pay the expense by:
    • using your savings
    • selling shares, investments, or assets
    • accessing funding through other means (such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme)
    • borrowing money, obtaining a loan, redrawing your mortgage or using credit facilities. If you subsequently are unable to repay the borrowed amount, you may still be eligible to apply.
  • Condition 5 – you provide all required supporting evidence and invoices or quotes, including any documentary evidence required to show you're in a dependant relationship with someone when you're applying to pay an expense for them.

Accessing super to pay expenses for someone else

If you're seeking to access your super to pay an expense for another person, you must have a dependent relationship with that person.

If your relationship meets the requirements of an interdependent or substantially financially dependent relationship, you need to provide evidence of the relationship.

Who is a dependant

A person can be considered your dependant if they meet the criteria for one of the categories below:

  • your spouse
  • your child
  • any other person you are in an interdependent relationship with
  • a person who is substantially financially dependent on you.

Read the information below to determine if your relationship meets the relevant criteria and to understand the additional evidence you need to provide.

Applications submitted with incomplete evidence will be delayed or not approved.

Spouse

We define a spouse as someone who is either:

  • legally married to you
  • a person who is recognised as being in a registered relationship with you under a state or territory law
  • not legally married to you but lives with you on a genuine domestic basis in a relationship as a couple.

If you're applying to pay for the expense of your spouse, you're not required to provide any additional evidence with your application.

Child

A child is someone less than 18 years old.

To be considered your dependent, the child must be either your:

  • biological child
  • adopted child
  • stepchild
  • child of your spouse
  • a child within the meaning of the Family Law Act 1975.

If you're applying to pay for the expense of your child who meets the above criteria, you're not required to provide any additional evidence with your application.

If your application is to pay for the expenses of your child who is 18 years or older, you'll need to satisfy that an interdependent relationship or a substantially financial dependent relationship exists between you and your child.

Interdependent

An interdependent relationship is a relationship between 2 people which meets all the conditions below:

  • they have a close personal relationship
  • they live together
  • one or both provides financial support to the other
  • one or both provides domestic support and personal care to the other.

You may also be considered to have an interdependent relationship if you have a close personal relationship but live apart temporarily. For example, one or both of you are:

  • temporarily working or studying interstate or overseas
  • detained in prison
  • receiving care for a physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability.

Evidence

To show that you are in an interdependent relationship with another person, you need to provide:

  • documents showing you both live at the same address. Note: If you're temporarily living apart, your documents need to show that you normally live together and why you are temporarily living apart.
    • this could be a joint bank statement or a phone or utility bill for example.
  • evidence of the financial support provided
    • this can include bank statements from both people that clearly shows payments to the other person or made on their behalf
  • a statutory declaration, detailing all of the circumstances of the relationship between the persons, including (where relevant)
    • duration of your relationship
    • whether or not a sexual relationship exists
    • degree of mutual commitment to a shared life
    • ownership, use and acquisition of property
    • care and support of children
    • public aspects of your relationship
    • degree of emotional support provided to each other
    • degree to which the relationship is one of mere convenience; and
    • any information that indicates you intend for the relationship to be permanent.

To download a Commonwealth statutory declaration form, see How to complete a statutory declarationExternal Link.

Example: evidence to support interdependency

Alix makes an application for compassionate release of super to modify her home to accommodate her adult son’s special needs arising from a severe disability. To support her application that her son is a dependant both Alix and her son provide:

  • a statutory declaration that they:
    • have shared and continue to share a close and personal relationship for over 2 years
    • have lived together for more than 2 years
    • provide domestic support in the form of cleaning and cooking and emotional support to each other given they have no other living relatives, and
    • due to her son's disability, he can't live on his own, so the current situation will be permanent.
  • electricity bills confirming they live at the same address
  • copies of bank statements showing that Alix has provided for the last eight years, and continues to provide, financial support of $100 a week to her son. As they live together Alix is also able to show that she pays for all bills, and everyday expenses for her and her son.

In this case we are satisfied that an interdependency relationship exists between Alix and her son.

End of example

Substantially financially dependent

A person is substantially financially dependent on another where one person is unable to meet their normal living expenses without the financial support of the other person. Your application needs to include information and financial documents that show:

  • you make regular, continuous, substantial financial payments to, or on behalf of, the other person for a significant period
  • these payments cover all or a substantial portion of the person's normal living expenses
  • the person would be unable to afford their normal living expenses without these payments (such as groceries, mortgage/rent, transportation costs, utility bills and medical expenses).

Evidence

To prove you're in a substantially financially dependent relationship with another person, you need to provide:

  • a written statement or letter (this can include a statutory declaration) from yourself or the dependant that includes the following information about the relationship
    • how regularly financial support is provided
    • value of financial support provided
    • duration of the financially dependent relationship
    • whether the other person's normal living expenses are financed by these payments
    • level of reliance the other person has on the financial support provided
    • whether the other person has any other sources of income and, if so, the value
    • any other information that supports the relationship.
  • financial documents that
    • support the written statement or letter and clearly demonstrate that you financially support the other person to meet their normal living expenses (such as groceries, mortgage payments or rent, transportation costs, utility bills, medical expenses) on a regular basis for a significant period
    • show the other person could not meet their living expenses without your financial support.

Financial documents that can demonstrate the financial support include:

  • your and the other person's bank statements for the same period, showing:
    • transfer and receipt of money to, or on behalf of, the other person
    • how the money is used to fund the other person's normal living expenses
    • any income the other person is receiving
  • receipts for expenses you have paid on behalf of the other person
  • documents detailing any employment payments or government help provided to the dependant that show any other income they have.
Example: evidence to support substantial financial dependency

Dev makes an application for compassionate release of super for medical treatment for his mother. Dev and his mother share a close relationship and he supports his mother financially. They don't live together. To support a substantially financial relationship, Dev provides us with:

  • copies of bank statements from himself and his mother showing fortnightly transfers of money to support his mother. His mother used the money transferred by Dev to buy essential everyday living expenses. This arrangement has been occurring for more than 12 months. The bank statements also show that Dev’s mother does not receive any other income or financial assistance
  • copies of receipts for shopping expenses, medical expenses, and rent payments that Dev has been paying for his mother for more than 12 months
  • statutory declarations from both Dev and his mother detailing the financial support Dev provides to his mother, and how his mother wouldn't be able to maintain a basic standard of living without the support Dev provides. The supporting bank statements and receipts substantiate the statutory declarations provided by both Dev and his mother.

Given the breadth of supporting material provided by Dev and his mother, we're satisfied that a substantial financial dependency relationship exists.

End of example

Accessing super to repay borrowed amounts for eligible expenses

If you or your dependant paid for an eligible expense by borrowing money and you don't have the financial capacity to repay the amount, you may be able to access some of your super to repay the outstanding balance of the borrowed amount.

Borrowed amount refers to any debt that was incurred to pay for an eligible expense, where a balance remains outstanding and has a requirement to be repaid. Examples of financial arrangements that may be eligible are:

  • amounts borrowed from family or friends
  • amounts lent by a commercial lender (banks or other lenders)
  • credit card debts
  • amounts owed to 'pay later' services.

If you didn't borrow money from a commercial lender, we recommend that you document the terms of the arrangement as this will support your application.

Eligibility criteria

To access your super on compassionate grounds to repay borrowed amounts, all of the below conditions need to be met:

  • Condition 1 - You or your dependant meet all the eligibility conditions to access your super on compassionate grounds, including that the expense is an eligible expense
    • this includes having the necessary documents to support your eligibility for the expense
  • Condition 2 - You or your dependant borrowed money for the purposes of paying for the expense
  • Condition 3 - The borrowed amount was used to pay for the expense
  • Condition 4 - The borrowed amount remains outstanding in part or full
  • Condition 5 - You don’t have the financial capacity to repay the outstanding balance of the borrowed amount in accordance with the terms you agreed to.
    • you need to consider options to repay some or all of the borrowed amount before applying

Where the above conditions are met and you can provide the required supporting documents, we can consider approving a release to repay the outstanding balance of the borrowed amount that was used to pay for the eligible expense.

Any interest or administrative fees, including penalties, charged on the borrowed amount can't be considered as part of a release on compassionate grounds.

Evidence

In addition to the documents required to support your or your dependant's eligibility for the expense, you need to provide additional documents to support the borrowed amount. The documents required will differ depending on who you or your dependant borrowed money from.

Amounts borrowed from family or friends

If you or your dependant borrowed money from a family or friend, your application needs to include the additional documents below to support the borrowed amount.

  • An invoice or quote showing the cost of the expense
  • Documents that show the payment of the expense (such as bank statements or paid invoices or receipts). These need to include the:
    • date of payment
    • method of payment (electronic payment, credit card, cash)
    • the amount paid
  • Financial documents that include details of the borrowed amount (including bank statements, loan contracts, written agreement or loan statements). These need to show the following information:
    • payment of the borrowed amount from the lender
    • receipt of the borrowed amounts and payments to the provider (or direct payment to the provider from the lender on your or your dependant's behalf)
    • the date amounts were received and paid
    • any repayments that have been made against the loan
    • any interest/fees that have been charged
  • Statutory declaration from yourself or your dependant, which includes:
    • details of the borrowed amount including the amount, lender's name and the date received
    • the reasons why the amount was borrowed
    • the amount that is outstanding that you aren't able to repay by other means
    • details of why you or your dependant can't to repay the amount
      • this needs to include details of the other funding options (see condition 4 you have considered and why they aren't available
      • if any terms of repayment were agreed to, this needs to include why the repayment terms can't be met
  • Statutory declaration from the lender, which includes:
    • details of the amount lent including, the amount, who it was for, how it was paid, and the date paid
    • any terms and conditions for the amount lent (including any information about repayments requirements and the charging of interest/fees)
    • the amount that is currently outstanding

If a formal agreement was entered into with a family or friend regarding any borrowed amount, you need to include these documents in your application.

Spouse expenses

If your spouse paid for an eligible expense on your behalf, this will generally not be regarded as a borrowed amount between you and your spouse, unless you provide documents that clearly demonstrate that all of your financial affairs are separate and your spouse's payment of the expense was a loan to you.

If your spouse borrowed money to pay for your eligible expense, your statutory declaration needs detail why you and your spouse jointly can't repay the borrowed amount.

Loans from a commercial lender

If you or your dependant obtained a loan from a commercial lender, your application needs to include the additional documents below to support the loan.

  • An invoice or quote showing the cost of the expense
  • Documents that show the payment of the expense (such as bank statements or paid invoices or receipts). These need to include the:
    • date of payment
    • method of payment (electronic payment, credit card, cash)
    • the amount paid
  • Financial documents that include details of the loan (including bank statements, loan contracts, written agreement or loan statements). These need to show the following information:
    • receipt of the loan and payments to the provider (or direct payment to the provider from the lender on your or your dependant's behalf)
    • date amounts were received and paid
    • terms and conditions of the loan (including any information about repayment requirements and the charging of interest/fees)
    • outstanding balance of the loan (including details of any interest/fees that have been charged and repayments that have been made).
  • Statutory declaration from yourself, which includes:
    • details of the loan including, the amount, lenders name and the date received
    • reasons why you obtained the loan
    • current outstanding balance of the loan that you aren't able to repay by other means
    • details of the changes in your or your dependants' circumstances since obtaining the loan that have resulted in the repayment terms not being met
    • details of other funding options (see condition 4) you have considered and why they aren't available.

Other lenders or financial arrangements

If you or your dependant has borrowed money or incurred a debt to pay for an eligible expense from any other entity, your application needs to include the additional documents below to support this arrangement.

  • An invoice or quote showing the cost of the expense
  • Documents that show the payment of the expense (such as bank statements or paid invoices or receipts). These need to include the:
    • date of payment
    • method of payment (electronic payment, credit card, cash)
    • amount paid
  • Financial documents that include details of the borrowed amount or debt incurred (including bank statements, loan contracts, written agreement, loan statements or repayment schedules). These need to show the following information:
    • receipt of the borrowed amounts or debt incurred, including the date
    • payments to the provider (or direct payment to the provider from the lender on your or your dependant's behalf), including the date and the amount paid
    • any terms and conditions regarding the amount (including any information about repayments requirements and the charging of interest/fees)
    • outstanding balance of the borrowed amount or debt incurred (including details of any interest/fees that have been charged and repayments that have been made).
  • Statutory declaration from yourself, which includes:
    • details of the borrowed amount or debt incurred including the amount, lenders name and the date received
    • reasons why you borrowed the amount or incurred the debt
    • amount that is outstanding that you aren't able to repay by other means
    • details of why you can't make repayments as per the agreed terms
    • details of other funding options (see condition 4) you have considered and why they aren't available.
Example: Repayment of money borrowed from a family to pay for a funeral

Justin makes an application for compassionate release of super to repay money borrowed from his sibling David, that was used to pay for the funeral of his partner Mary.

To support his eligibility, Justin includes the death certificate for Mary, showing that she passed away 2 years ago. He also provides a quote for $14,200 from a funeral company, showing the itemised costs of their professional fees, the coffin, the death certificate and a celebrant.

To support the payment of the expense, Justin has provided a receipt from the same funeral company confirming the electronic payment of $14,200. The receipt is dated 2 weeks after the date on the quote.

To support the borrowed amount, Justin provided the following documents:

  • copy of Justin's bank statement from 2 years ago showing $15,000 being received and $14,200 being paid
  • copies of Justin's bank statements over the last 2 years, showing three outgoing payments totalling $1,500
  • copy of David's bank statement from 2 years ago showing a $15,000 payment being made, with corresponding dates to Justin's bank statement
  • A statutory declaration from Justin advising:
    • Justin borrowed $15,000 from David two years ago to pay for the funeral of Mary, as Justin didn't have the sufficient savings to pay for the expense at the time
    • Justin also advised that he has made three repayments over the last two years totalling $1,500
    • Justin is unable to make further repayments due to cost of living pressures
  • A statutory declaration from David advising:
    • David lent $15,000 to Justin 2 years ago to pay for the funeral of his wife Mary, via electronic bank transfer
    • David and Justin didn't document any repayment terms, however it was agreed that Justin would repay the full amount to David
    • Justin has made 3 repayments totalling $1,500 since obtaining the loan.

In this case, we consider Mary a dependant of Justin as they were spouses. The documents provided support that Justin borrowed $15,000 from David to pay for the funeral expenses of Mary. As only $14,200 of the borrowed amount was required for the funeral expense and Justin has repaid $1,500 to David, we can approve a release of up to $12,700 to repay the outstanding balance of the borrowed amount.

End of example

Evidence requirements

You must provide evidence relevant to the specific ground on which you're applying for compassionate release and where relevant to show that someone is your dependant.

If you don't provide the right evidence your application will be delayed or not be approved.

The following requirements apply to all the evidence and information that you provide:

  • If you submit your application online, you need digital copies of the required evidence. We accept photos of documents. Supported file formats are PDF, gif, jpeg and png. We do not accept screen shots of text messages or emails.
    • our system will not accept more than 20 attachments and 10 MB per attachment.
  • If you submit a paper application, you need to ensure you provide copies of your documents. Don't provide original documents as these will not be returned.
  • Where your evidence, including quotes/invoices or registered medical practitioner/specialist reports, are written in a language other than English, you will need to have it translated. The translator must be accredited by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATIExternal Link).
  • Don't include images of a disturbing nature to support your application as they're not necessary to assess your application.
  • We may undertake checks with your providers to validate evidence provided in your application, including where missing or additional information is required. This includes contacting service providers to validate invoices, quotes, or medical reports.
  • When providing statements from a lender to support your application, you need to ensure these are on the lender's letterhead and include all the account details.

Quotes and invoices

Under each ground we also need to see evidence of expenses that show the amounts you’re seeking to release from your super account. This can include an itemised quote or an invoice that shows the amount and a description of each component.

Invoices and quotes must:

  • include an itemised list of expenses and their respective costs. Lump sum quotes or invoices will not be accepted
  • include the provider's name and contact details
  • be on the provider's letterhead
  • be addressed to you, or your dependant if you are applying for them
  • be dated
    • no more than 6 months old for unpaid quotes
    • no more than 30 days old for unpaid invoices
  • be converted to Australian dollars if they're in a foreign currency, at the exchange rate at the time you apply. If we approve your application, we won't recalculate the conversion at the time of approval.

If the quote or invoice has been paid via a borrowed amount, there are no timeframe requirements for the invoice or quote.

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