Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell urges Minister to take Down Syndrome Kiwisaver case out of the 'too hard basket'.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell says a woman's bid for her son - likely to die early because of Down syndrome - to access his KiwiSaver funds for his dream holiday cannot be put in the "too hard basket".

Tim Fairhall is 39 and by law cannot access his $8000 in KiwiSaver until he turns 65.
The problem is, he is unlikely to live that long.

The average age of death for people with Down syndrome in New Zealand is 57.

The Weekend Herald this morning reported the desperation of his mother, Joan Fairhall, who has tried every avenue for her son's KiwiSaver funds to be released early.

Tim has saved $8000 in his KiwiSaver by working at the Countdown supermarket in Te Atatu, West Auckland.


He wants to draw down on his savings so he can retire and travel overseas to visit his brother and niece before his premature ageing, which is part of Down syndrome, renders him unable to do so.

His mother Joan has tried every avenue to try to have Tim's funds released, but has discovered it is impossible under the current legislation.

But Tim's condition, and those of other New Zealanders with congenital life-shortening conditions, do not come under any of the justifications for opting out of the scheme, or having funds released under hardship applications.

"Tim should be able to access his savings. He has worked hard, saved his money and wants some active years after he stops working, which is a pretty reasonable expectation," says Maxwell, the head of the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC).

"This issue cannot end up in the 'too hard basket'. It may not be easy but it just requires a commitment to work until we get the settings right for more and more New Zealanders. And when we look back in years to come I would like to think we had the courage and the ambition to do that."

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell. Photo /Dean Purcell.
Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell. Photo /Dean Purcell.

Maxwell said the Fairhalls came to her for help in late 2016 and the CFFC had supported them in their efforts to have Tim's funds released.

As Tim's KiwiSaver agent, Joan Fairhall has made a submission on his behalf to the Select Committee considering the Taxation (Annual Rates for 2018-19, Modernising Tax Administration, and Remedial Matters) Bill.

The bill contains a number of improvements to KiwiSaver rules and provisions, but not one that would help in cases like Tim's.

The Fairhalls recommend that the either the age for funds withdrawal be made younger for those with conditions like Down syndrome, or a principles-based element be added to the legislation allowing KiwiSaver providers greater discretion in withdrawal requests.

Fairhall says she and Tim simply want what is available to all other New Zealanders – access to a retirement savings fund that grows through their own and their employer's contributions and the government's annual Member Tax Credit, which Tim can withdraw when it's time for him to retire.

"I congratulate the team the drafted the original legislation on getting it almost right," says Fairhall. "They just overlooked the needs of one group of members."

Submissions on the bill close on Monday, August 13, and the Fairhalls are looking forward to speaking to their submission before the Select Committee in September.

Tim, who lives in a trust house in Auckland, has worked two half-days a week at Countdown for 15 years.

His mother enrolled him in KiwiSaver 10 years ago, thinking she was helping him save for his retirement, which is going to come sooner than most people as he ages prematurely.

"This is Tim's money, he earned it, he saved it. He saved it with a particular goal in mind. It's important that he has a goal to look forward to. Tim is very hung up on that," Joan told the Weekend Herald.

His dream is to visit his brother and niece in Italy and travel to Britain where he was born.
"Having to tell your son he's going to die earlier than most people, and he's going to get old earlier, is heartbreaking," Joan says.

"I can also see, as a mother, that by the time he gets to his mid-40s and is needing to retire, that there may very well be things that he will need and things he might want to do.


"It's important that he's got this money that he saved to make his life better, that he should be able to access it to do just that."

Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

She has written to Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi about Tim's plight.

Faafoi was not available for interview but said in a statement that he would be responding to Joan directly, not through the media.

"On the whole, KiwiSaver is, I believe, working well and doing what it was designed to do - that is to help New Zealanders live their best retirement by ensuring they have the financial provisions to do so. This is not to say there aren't changes or improvements that can be made and we continually consider that and receive suggestions," Faafoi said.

"The Retirement Commissioner's input is also welcome, and next year the commissioner will have the opportunity to provide that through the three-yearly review of retirement income policies."