Superannuation for people with Epilepsy
Superannuation is fast becoming the most important way to save for your retirement but most of us have no idea about our rights to superannuation and insurance.
Superannuation consists of contributions paid into a superannuation fund by you or your employer and extra benefits for disability or death.
Superannuation is particularly important for people with chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, as most of us will have to rely on that money after we leave the work force. If your working life is cut short or restricted because of epilepsy, your ability to accumulate enough superannuation is serverely limited.
Superannuation contributions have been compulsory for the Australian work force since July 1992 with employers currently required to pay 8% of their workers' salaries into a superannuation fund if they earn more than $450.00 per month.
The rate of contributions is due to increase and by the year 2003 you will have the equivalent of at least 9% of your salary being paid into a superannuation fund.
The contributions made to a fund by you may be paid when you leave the fund. However, in most cases, an employer's contributions must be preserved in a superannuation fund until you retire or at least until age 55 or 60.
If you are totally and permanently disabled or can show financial hardship, you will be able to use the preserved benefits. However, the contributions alone are unlikely to provide you with sufficient income for your retirement.
Many superannuation funds also include disability benefits which are usually insurance lump sums paid if you become totally and permanently disabled. Therefore, if you cannot continue working because of epilepsy or any other illness or disability you may be able to claim a lump sum to "top up" your contributions for your retirement.
Disability benefits are not compulsory in superannuation but are present in most funds. However, many Australians have no idea that they can claim.
Your superannuation fund must send out a benefits statement to you at least every 12 months. The statement is supposed to show you what payments you can get and how much.
If you cannot find any benefits statements, ask the fund to send a copy of your last statement.
Unfortunately, some statements are hard to understand and if you are not sure of your benefits, ask for help.
Can I Claim Disability Benefits?
Under many employment superannuation funds, it does not matter if you had epilepsy before you joined the fund and you will not be asked questions about your health or sent for a medical examination. This is different from when you buy an insurance policy for yourself in that case, you may not be able to get disability cover if you already have epilepsy.
To be eligible for disability benefits you usually have to show that you can't ever go back to your old job or any other suitable work that fits your education, training or experience.
You do not have to show that you are in a wheelchair or that you cannot work at all and you do not have to be unfit for work because of work-related injuries. Therefore, if your epilepsy stops you from doing your usual jobs and if you cannot do any other work for which you have the skills or experience, then you will be able to claim the disability benefit.
When Can I Claim?
There is usually no time limit for making a disability claim. Even if you have already been paid your superannuation contributions, you may still be able to make a disability claim later. In fact, a disability claim can even be made by your Estate after you have died.
It may take many months before a decision is made and it is important to supply information and medical reports to support your claim.
If your disability claim is refused, you have the right to appeal. Many appeals are successful. It is very important to get professional help with a disability claim.
Other Insurance Benefits
If you are temporarily unable to do your usual job, some employment superannuation funds also pay weekly or monthly benefits. Most superannuation funds also pay a lump sum if you die while a member of the fund.
You might also have other insurance policies which pay benefits on disability or death such as life insurance, mortgage protection insurance, trauma or sickness and accident income protection policies. Banks and finance companies often ask customers to take out insurance to cover mortgage or loan repayments if they cannot keep up the payments because of injury or illness.
It will soon be compulsory for employers to offer you a choice of at least five funds to put your superannuation money into. It is important that you choose wisely and consider the disability benefits each fund offers.
Trauma insurance is also becoming popular under which a lump sum is paid to a person who suffers a particular disability such as a heart attack, cancer or organ transplant.
Other Superannuation Questions
Many people are confused about when they can be paid their superannuation benefits, how long they have to stay in a superannuation fund, what tax is paid on superannuation and where to invest their superannuation money.
There is also some confusion about whether you can claim social security benefits including Disability Support Pensions and Carers Pensions and superannuation. Because of a recent change to superannuation laws from September 1997, people over 55 who have been on social security benefits for nine months or more will have their superannuation included in their assets test for social security benefits, even if they have not taken the money out of the superannuation fund.
The rules about superannuation are changing all the time and it is very important that you get expert legal and financial advice.
Where Can I Get Help?
The Epilepsy Foundation in conjunction with the Chronic Illness Alliance has set up a free superannuation and insurance advice service to provide free legal and financial advice. Details are available on 9805 5911.
Superannuation is important to the financial future of all Australians including people with epilepsy. However, most people do not know much about superannuation particularly disability benefits under superannuation.
It is very important that you find out about your superannuation and insurance rights and entitlements. The Epilepsy Foundation is very keen to help. This information is designed to give you basic superannuation and insurance information.
This information was compiled by Mr. John Berrill of Maurice Blackburn & Co. Barristers and Solicitors Ph: 9345 2700