Business

Former public servants denied investment earnings on trapped super

Nicole Salisbury is angry that a government run superannuation scheme growing her compulsory retirement savings at less than the official inflation rate will not allow her to roll over her balance to another fund.

"I respect that I should not be able to access my super till retirement. I just want to be able to transfer my balance to a fund of my own choice to maximise its earning capacity," she said.

Ms Salisbury, who today owns a business with her husband, was previously employed as the national marketing manager for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's youth radio station Triple J between 1995 and 1998.

As a federal public servant she became a default member of the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme defined benefit fund.

After she left the ABC to go work in the private sector, Ms Salisbury was shocked to discover that not only could she not transfer her balance to another fund, she was automatically switched into a preservation option that denies her a share of the investment earnings paid to active members.

Last financial year the PSS paid Ms Salisbury just 1.3 per cent on the mandatory employer contributions that make up the bulk of her account. That was less than the official annual consumer price index of 1.7 per cent.

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Members still employed by the federal public service received investment earnings on their employer contributions of 12.6 per cent, which Ms Salisbury was only entitled to on the smaller portion of her balance derived from her own voluntary contributions.

"I just don't see how it is fair that I am not entitled to investment earnings on my entire balance," Ms Salisbury said.

"The AMP fund I am currently contributing to paid just shy of 11 per cent last financial year, and it seems completely unreasonable that I am not allowed to rollover the balance from my PSS fund if I want to."

Funds with benefits

The PSS defined benefit fund, which was closed to new members in July 2005 amid fears about the ballooning cost on the public purse of meeting its future liabilities, had a number of benefits that are considered by many as a fair offset to the disadvantage of restricted choice.

From age 60, Ms Salisbury will be entitled to access a guaranteed pension for life calculated at 11 per cent each year of her balance, which at December 30, 2015 was $27,898.03.

Ms Salisbury who is 44 years old today was aged 26 years when she left the ABC. Having sought professional advice from an AMP adviser she believes that, over the minimum 34 years that the PSS will have her employer contributions locked in preservation mode, the opportunity to grow her balance by retaining exposure to investment markets would be worth the risk of forgoing a lifetime benefit.

In addition to a lifetime pension and access to additional employer co-contributions for voluntary payments, another sweetener Ms Salisbury received when a contributing PSS member was getting paid a higher base rate of super.

During the period of her employment at the ABC the superannuation guarantee climbed progressively from 5 per cent to 7 per cent. As a federal public servant Ms Salisbury received a bonus rate that averaged 8 per cent over the period.

"It seemed like a great deal at the time, but now I am paying double fees and not getting regular investment earnings," Ms Salisbury said.

A spokeswoman for Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation said the organisation did not comment on an individual member's circumstances, and referred Ms Salisbury to the complaints officer.

"It is legislation which determines our members' entitlements and capacity to transfer balances," the spokeswoman said.

Telephone service staff from the PSS have previously advised Ms Salisbury that if she is unhappy with the rules to take the matter up with her local member of parliament. The Superannuation Complaints Tribunal made the same suggestion.

As a resident of Manly on Sydney's northern beaches, Ms Salisbury's local representative is former prime minister Tony Abbott, who said last week that he will recontest his federal seat of Warringah.

"I haven't taken the matter up with Mr Abbott yet, but I may well raise it with him in the future," Ms Salisbury said.

Under proposed legislation, from July 1, 2016, it will become illegal for new enterprise agreements or workplace determinations to lock workers out of the right to choose their own fund. But the law reform will not have any impact on the existing agreements.

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer has said about 2 million Australians are currently locked out of choice.

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