About a year ago I did some serious investigation into joining KiwiSaver, but decided against it because I could not get a definite answer to my questions. I have multiple sclerosis, which at some point may prevent me from working. If it does I want to be able to withdraw my KiwiSaver. I thought KiwiSaver would have a list of illnesses that qualify, as with life insurance early payouts, but it would appear that is not the case. The conclusion I came to was it would depend on the committee and the day.
KiwiSaver can be dipped into if you are suffering from serious illness or financial hardship, but the bar is, understandably, set fairly high. Your provider may collect the documentation for the claim, but the decision is made by the scheme's trustee - known as the supervisor.
The supervisor's role is to ensure KiwiSaver funds run in the best interests of investors. Vanja Thomas, senior relationship manager at Guardian Trust, which is a supervisor for a number of KiwiSaver funds, says your question raises pertinent issues.
"The framework to assess claims on the basis of serious illness is very prescriptive and is included in the KiwiSaver Scheme Rules," she says.
Broadly, if a member wishes to apply to withdraw funds on the grounds of serious illness the supervisor assessing the claim needs to be reasonably satisfied an injury, illness, or disability:
• results in the member being totally and permanently unable to engage in work they are suited to by any combination of experience, education, or training, or any combination of those things; or
• poses a serious and imminent risk of death.
"In a nutshell, the supervisor must be reasonably satisfied that the member is suffering from serious illness as defined above," says Thomas.
Applications normally require supporting medical evidence.
If approved, you can withdraw all or part of the total balance, including member, employer and Government contributions.
A key difficulty in applying the test is that it is more stringent than the insurance-type test on which it seems to be based, says Thomas.
A policy change would be needed to refine the current serious illness test, which is being looked at by the industry body Workplace Savings NZ and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.
There is also a complaints process for KiwiSaver issues if you're unhappy with withdrawal decisions.
Initially, contact your provider, but if you aren't making headway or aren't satisfied with their response you can take it to an independent disputes resolution service.
More detail can be found at: kiwisaver.govt.nz/providers/about/complaints/ks-complain.html