In the last decade, over 100,000 Irish have headed out to Australia, making it one of the most desired locations for Irish who are emigrating. The recession which unfolded from 2008, was a major catalyst for this increased emigration. By contrast, Australia during the same period was experiencing growth in their economy which made it an attractive destination. Many of these emigrants have made Australia their permanent home, however, the majority have returned home.
How does the Australian Pension System work?
Retirement income in Australia is funded with a combination personal pensions, the government funded ‘Age’ pension and superannuation, with the latter being the main component.
What is the Age Pension?
The Age pension is designed to provide a safety net for those unable to save enough through their working life and to supplement retirement savings for others. This is means tested and aims to provide seniors with an income adequate to ensure a basic living standard.
In order to be eligible for the Age pension, you must:
- Be at least 65 years old
- Meet an income and assets test
- Be living in Australia.
It is possible to continue to receive the Age Pension if you leave Australia on a permanent basis, however, it will be reduced based on your ‘Australian working life residence’.
Ireland has a social security agreement in place with Australia which allows individuals to receive a part pension from Ireland and a part pension from Australia. This includes a ruling where the Irish state pension is exempt from the income test in Australia, and the Australian Age Pension is exempt from income testing in Ireland.
Ireland also allows social security credits paid in Australia to be counted towards the Irish state pension if individuals are short for the full Irish contributory pension.
What is Superannuation?
The Super (superannuation) is a compulsory system where a minimum percentage of Australian workers income is placed into a fund which is invested in a range of assets with the intention of growing the fund until retirement, at which point they can start to draw down the fund.
Anybody over the age of 18 who earns more than $450 per month receives contributions into the scheme from their employer. This includes temporary residents of Australia. The bulk of the Irish who emigrate to Australia would fall into this category.
Employers pay a minimum of 9.5% of an employee’s salary into the fund. From 2021 this amount is due to increase by 0.5% and will do so each year until the minimum employer contribution reaches 12% by 2025.
Employees are also incentivised to make additional personal contributions. One such way is the government matching contributions for those in certain income brackets. There is also favourable tax treatment of contributions on offer depending on your income and how these contributions are made.
The superannuation is acts like a private pension in the fact that individuals own the funds and can decide what funds to invest in if they wish. Employers do also have default investment schemes if employees do not want to make these investment decisions.
What is a Retirement Savings Account?
Australian Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) work like a superannuation account, however, they are offered by deposit-taking institutions or life insurance companies. They operate under the same tax rules as superannuation accounts. The main difference is that your tax-free portion can earn interest.
These types of schemes are rare these days as most Australians contribute into a superannuation account when they join the workforce.
Can I transfer my Australian pension back to Ireland?
Irish emigrants moving back from Australia on a permanent basis, cannot transfer these holdings into an Irish pension like some other overseas pension arrangements, for example, pensions accrued in the United Kingdom which Irish pensions can accept transfers in from.
Strangely, on the other hand, Australian pensions can receive a transfer in from an Irish pension.
It is not just Irish pensions which cannot receive a transfer from an Australian pension. The current Australian rules do not allow transfers to any overseas pension with the exception of their neighbours, New Zealand.
Generally, The Irish Revenue will allow pensions from overseas to be transferred to Ireland if the following criteria is met:
- The transfer occurs before the pension is in payment
- The scheme member requests the transfer
- The rules of Irish and Overseas scheme permit the transfer
- The administration or trustees of the transferring scheme comply fully with the transfer rules, regulations or requirements in the other jurisdiction
- The revenue authority in the state from where the transfer is coming from permit the transfer
In the case of Australian pensions, individuals need to apply to have the contributions returned directly to them.
Most Irish who go to Australia do so on a temporary visa. These individuals can apply for a ‘departing super payment’ (DASP). This is only for non- Australian citizens. This can be done online through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The individual must have held a temporary visa under the Migration Act 1958. The visa must also be expired before any claim can be made.
If an individual became a citizen or permanent resident, they will not be able to access the funds from their superannuation until their normal retirement age of 55 – 60, depending on the year they were born.
How will the superannuation refund be taxed in Ireland?
There are varying levels of tax applied on the refund depending on which visa the individual held. If an individual held a 417 or 462 visa, a tax rate of 62% will be applied. If an individual holds another visa, they will be taxed at 38%.
The Irish Revenue tax Irish residents on their worldwide income, regardless of where it is sourced. This means that the income is potentially taxable in both Ireland and Australia. A double taxation agreement between Australia and Ireland means that the Irish tax due will be reduced or eliminated. Individuals should seek guidance from a financial advisor on this.
Can I leave my superannuation in Australia?
The only option for those who became Australian citizens or took up permanent residency is to leave the fund in Australia where it will remain locked in place until they reach the retirement age of at least 55 (as mentioned above).
If you were a temporary resident, you have six months to claim your superannuation or else the balance will be paid to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) where it will be held until it is claimed back. This will be held indefinitely as an unclaimed super. These funds will no longer be invested so this option is not recommended.
Individuals can claim superannuation refunds from account which were accrued as far back as 1994. There are currently billions of dollars which have been left behind by people who lived and worked in Australia but have since moved overseas.
Although we would rarely endorse accessing retirement funds before their intended retirement age, there is no other options available which we would recommend.
If you are planning on retiring in Ireland, it makes sense to convert these funds to Euro to avoid any future currency risk, where a weakened Australian dollar would have a negative impact on your future income.
As these funds were originally intended for retirement, a long term investment with these refunded monies should be considered to ensure you are on track for your desired retirement. The majority of people do not have enough retirement provisions in place so spending these funds in the short term may have a detrimental impact to your long term financial plan as the longer you delay paying into a pension, the more it will more it is going to cost you in the long run to achieve a sufficient retirement pot.
We recommend speaking to a financial advisor to see how much money you will need in retirement and to then put a plan in place which should include provision for the funds which you are withdrawing from your Australian pension. The financial advisor can run various scenarios using cash flow modelling software to help you make informed decisions around the appropriate investment vehicle and how much investment risk you need / are willing to take to achieve your financial goals. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like some further advice in this area.