For a lot of Australians superannuation can be an individual’s greatest asset, the feeling of losing it when filing for bankruptcy is a very real concern for a lot of our customers. With certain areas of the economy doing rather well and other areas experiencing difficult economic times, bankruptcy numbers in Australia still continue to increase. Economists don’t talk about Australia’s two-speed economy much anymore, but it unquestionably still is two-speed. With the help of a long-term boom in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets, these major centres are doing quite well running at a nice speed, with no sign of stopping anytime soon. Nonetheless mining areas in North Queensland and Western Australia have practically stopped dead and in some areas firmly stuck in reverse.
The Past: Superannuation and bankruptcy. Not too long ago, the Bankruptcy Act 1966 instructed that all property (including superannuation) that belonged to a bankrupt at the beginning of their bankruptcy was to be awarded to their creditors. This raised the question: was there an interest in a superannuation fund property? The law specifically answered this question with a dubitable no – the interest of a bankrupt in a regulated superannuation fund was not property divisible among creditors. Nonetheless, this protection of superannuation was not set in stone. In 2007 the laws changed, at that time the excess of a bankruptcy’s interest in a superannuation fund that exceeded the pension ‘reasonable benefit limit’ or (RBL) did constitute property that was divisible among creditors.
Post 2007 we have ‘Simpler Super’. The simpler super changes marked a considerable change for superannuation and bankruptcy. The main change was, put simply, your superannuation is safe over and above the pension RBL amount. This implies that protection of superannuation upon bankruptcy is now absolute, technically, a bankrupt can now have an enormous amount of super and it will be safe. The government officially outlined the changes through its explanatory memorandum, Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Simplification) Bill 2007, as follows:
Currently, under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, a bankrupt’s interest in a superannuation fund up to the bankrupt’s pension RBL is protected from being divisible among creditors. A bankrupt’s superannuation interest in excess of the pension RBL automatically vests in the bankruptcy trustee. The amendments remove references to RBLs from the Bankruptcy Act 1966 to ensure consistency with the new Simplified Superannuation rules, which abolish RBLs with effect from 1 July 2007. This means that, from 1 July 2007, a bankrupt’s entire interest in a superannuation fund is protected, if you know what you are doing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Does this imply that I can willingly contribute extra funds to my superannuation before I declare bankruptcy and it will be safe?
Answer: No. While these changes safeguard your superannuation, 100% voluntary contributions above your employers required 9.5% will be seen as an asset and accessible to creditors since it will be deemed a preference payment. Basically, if you sell your house and make $50,000 profit from doing this, then shovel it off into your super fund, the trustee will see that as a preference payment, or in plain English you paid your super fund $50,000 in preference to your creditors, so the trustee will claw back that excess from the fund, and apply it towards your debts.
Question: What about my Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF), is it also safe?
Answer: Yes. But there are things you will need to do once you are bankrupt; In the case of a self-managed super fund and bankruptcy, take note that the Superannuation Industry Supervision Act 1993 rules that a “disqualified person” must not be a trustee of a superannuation entity. Simply put, if you are bankrupt you can no longer be a trustee of any trust including a super fund. A disqualified person includes a person who is an insolvent under administration, such as an undischarged bankrupt.
Ideally this means if you have a SMSF, you have to retire or resign as the trustee, or director of the corporate trustee, before becoming bankrupt or within six months after filing for bankruptcy. Failure to do so can lead to imprisonment for up to two years. Soon after the person resigns/retires, the SMSF will quite possibly fail to satisfy the basic conditions required to be an SMSF and will mandate a restructure.
Restructuring can include transferring the bankrupt’s superannuation interests to a regulated superannuation fund then terminating the SMSF. Or you can designate a registrable superannuation entity (RSE) licensee to act as trustee of the SMSF, wherein the fund would cease being an SMSF and would become another kind of superannuation fund. Even though RSE licensees can be expensive, this is preferable where the fund has ‘lumpy’ non-liquid assets (namely property) that can not easily be rolled into another superannuation fund. Commonly, an individual who holds an enduring power of attorney in respect of a member can act as trustee of the SMSF as opposed to the member.
Question: I’m old enough to draw down my super, are all my payments to myself safe irrespective of how much?
Answer: Take care here, this could seriously cost you! Based on the discussion above, an interest in a superannuation fund is thoroughly protected upon bankruptcy. The same applies to any lump sum received from a superannuation fund in accordance with the Bankruptcy Act. So for instance, you as a bankrupt who receives a lump sum of $10 million from your superannuation fund could keep that money and it will be safe. Then again be warned the same is not true of pension payments acquired from superannuation funds. They are not protected in the same manner. Pension payments are treated as income and income only receives minimal protection from creditors. The particular level of protection afforded to pension payments is adjusted for inflation two times a year, but as at 22 February 2017, the level is as follows:
Dependants Income Limit
over 4 $74,441.00.
Regardless of what you earn over these amounts yearly, 50% of the excess is payable to the trustee just like any income earned during bankruptcy and paid to creditors.
The difference in the treatment between lump sums and pensions has important practical implications now that account-based pensions have been introduced; don’t assume it’s all safe and no matter what you do, get the right advice. At this point we advise you to give us a ring and we will point you in the right direction. Put simply, your super needs to be handled with care. Every case has a distinct set of circumstances and between our firm and your financial advisor, we will secure the right outcome for you. If you need to know more, call Gold Coast Bankruptcy Centre on 1300 795 575.