In what must surely be one of the clearest sings of the times Australians are raiding their superannuation early in greater numbers.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) revealed figures for the first 10 months of 2014-15 financial year. These show that 73 per cent of applicants were approved for early release of funds. This figure was up 10 per cent from the previous year.

 Monies were released from superannuation accounts for those who could show severe financial hardship. Hardship was exhibited through mortgage defaults, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or being permanently incapacitated.

But funds are not just being released to greater numbers; it’s also being released in greater amounts: The average amount found to be taken out of super-funds rose by $300 to $12,600.

Tom Garcia, Chief executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, said that the rules on super remained despite the surge in approvals for early releases.

“It is important to understand that early release is limited to certain purposes and financial amounts – strict criteria applies to make sure the decision is in the member’s long term best interests.

“Recent budget announcements will make the system more accommodating for people diagnosed with terminal illness to successfully apply for early access to their super due to an extension of the life expectancy period from 12 to 24 months.”

Currently it is either the DHS or super-fund who determines whether the application for fund release is approved.

So far this year 11,700 people were approved out of around 16,000 applications. The released money came to about $148 million.

Fiona Guthrie, form Financial Counselling Australia, cautioned people to think carefully before applying for a release of funds.

“It depends on the person’s circumstances,” she said. “It may lead them to be worse off.

“They may have lost access to their funds meant to be used for retirement, you should get some advice and think it through clearly.”

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