Can You Access Superannuation Early to Pay for IVF?

IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is becoming an increasingly common option for couples experiencing fertility issues. More than 13,500 IVF babies – a record number – were born in 2016/17 across Australia and New Zealand, according to the Fertility Society of Australia.

However, the process can come with a significant financial burden and may be inaccessible for some. As a result, accessing super early has become an option for funding the procedure which some IVF clients choose to explore. Despite the fact that superannuation is intended for retirement, there are several allowances that exist to facilitate early access. We’ve taken a look at how this has been possible for IVF treatment in some cases, and explain some of the potential consequences. 

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How might you be able to access your super early to pay for IVF?

Early access to super for IVF treatments is typically sought under ‘compassionate grounds’. In order to be considered, you must satisfy the Australian Tax Office’s ‘Medical (treatment or transport)’ eligibility criteria.

These criteria dictate that you or your dependant must have:

  • A life-threatening illness/injury
  • Acute or chronic pain, or
  • Acute or chronic mental illness

In addition, the treatment must not be readily available through the public health system and your application must include supporting reports from two registered medical practitioners. The ATO says that it will only consider one IVF treatment per application.

With regards to IVF, claims for early access are often made under the mental health provision. If you can show, with the certification of medical practitioners, that you are suffering mentally due to infertility, you may be eligible to submit a claim for early release of super. 

However, it is important to be aware of the proposed changes to these rules currently being considered by the government. The Treasury’s Review of Early Release Superannuation Benefits presents several draft proposals. The intention is to tighten early access to superannuation for medical treatment as a result of a spike in claims. Access on the basis of mental health grounds for treatments including IVF has been identified as a concern.

Specifically, the report recommends a change to the assessment of mental health eligibility through a change to the wording of the relevant legislation, from ‘alleviate an acute, or chronic, mental disturbance’ to ‘treat a diagnosed mental illness or behavioural disorder’. This proposal is intended to remove the grey area that the term ‘mental disturbance’ creates and in theory could make the process of obtaining early access for purposes like IVF more stringent.

Accessing your super for other reasons

More generally, there are a number of other circumstances under which you may be able to access your super before reaching your preservation age. These circumstances are generally associated with medical complications or significant financial hardship

Compassionate Grounds

According to the ATO, you may be able to gain access to your superannuation on compassionate grounds if you or a dependant requires money for one of the following purposes:

  • Medical treatment or transport (as discussed above, this is typically the criteria used by those seeking early access for IVF treatment)
  • Costs related to a death/funeral
  • Palliative care
  • Severe disability necessitating modifications to your home or vehicle 
  • Loan payment to prevent losing your home

It is important to note that the ATO will only approve early access to cover unpaid expenses, and that the amount you withdraw will be limited to what you reasonably need. Additionally, each of the circumstances above have specific eligibility requirements

Severe Financial Hardship

If you are experiencing severe financial hardship, you may be able to access your super early (up to $10,000) to help alleviate your issues. The ATO explains that to be eligible, you must have received government income support payments for 26 weeks continuously. Additionally, it should also be evident that you are unable to cover reasonable and immediate family expenses. 

Only one withdrawal on these grounds can be made in any 12-month period. 

Other circumstances 

In addition, the ATO says that early access to super may be granted due to a terminal medical condition, temporary or permanent incapacity, or in certain situations where an individual’s balance is below $200.

How to apply for early release of your super

Currently the application process for early access varies depending on the grounds you claim. Those applying for access on compassionate grounds, such as IVF clients, must direct their applications through the ATO. Applications can be made online at my.gov.au. and can take up to 14 days. If approved, you must then contact your super fund to organise the release of funds. 

Alternatively, if you’re applying on grounds of financial hardship, you must go through your super fund directly. The Department of Human Services (DHS) can assist in verifying your claim by providing documentation of support payments.

Should you apply for early access to your super?

It’s important to consider the potential short and long-term implications.

A possible upside to gaining early access to your super is that it may enable you to resolve a serious issue in the short term, whether that be medical treatment with the potential to improve your life, or an injection of cash to help with severe financial hardship. Early access can provide vital funds to those in need who cannot use savings or access a loan.

However, a possible downside of being granted early access to your super is that by solving a current problem, you could potentially create a future problem by reducing the size of your retirement benefit. Superannuation is designed to fund your retirement, and early access may potentially impact your quality of life down the track. 

Other key considerations

The path to applying for early access to super can be lengthy, complex and an emotionally-challenging undertaking. It may be difficult to predict whether your claim will be approved as the eligibility criteria are fairly strict. It’s for this reason that there are companies who offer to help facilitate the process for you. It’s important to note that these companies typically use the same application process you would follow if you were applying yourself – they simply offer to take the process out of your hands for a fee. 

It may be worth carefully considering whether you need to involve a third party, such as a legal expert, depending on your circumstances.

Additionally, be aware that the ATO warns consumers of illegal schemes that claim to offer early access by transferring your super into a self-managed fund, and states that heavy penalties can apply to those who participate in these schemes.

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About Dominic Woolrych 

Dominic Woolrych is the CEO of online legal platform, LawPath. He’s a lawyer with prior experience at international law firm, MinterEllison. 

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