More than 15,000 Kiwis have made more than one withdrawal from their KiwiSaver account for hardship reasons since the scheme began.

Figures from the Inland Revenue show 15,081 members have been forced to dip into their retirement savings on multiple occasions because of financial hardship in the last 10 years.

A total of 60,495 hardship withdrawals have been made since KiwiSaver began in July 2007 with $272 million withdrawn.

It's only a small proportion of the 2.7 million in KiwiSaver, but the number applying is growing.


In May more than 1500 people took $9.2m out of the scheme - the biggest monthly withdrawal so far.

An IRD spokesman said while the number of annual financial hardship withdrawals had been increasing slowly, so had overall KiwiSaver membership.

"The ratio of withdrawals to membership has been fairly consistent for the past five financial years," he said.

Those applying for hardship must meet strict criteria including having to show they are unable to meet day-to-day living expenses or make mortgage repayments on their home to the point where the funder is calling in the loan.

Mark Jephson, general manager of corporate trusts at Guardian Trust which handles hardship claims on behalf of KiwiSaver providers, said some people came back for a second application because their financial circumstances had not improved after the first pay-out.

He said as a general rule based on recommendations set by industry body Workplace Savings, it only paid out enough funds to cover 13 weeks of living costs for the first application as that was the typical stand-down period for certain benefit payments from Work and Income New Zealand.

"Often their circumstances haven't really changed after that so they will submit another full application."

Jephson said the second time a person applied it looked for evidence that the person had taken some form of budgeting advice since the first application.


"We want to see they have taken steps to alleviate hardship."

Jephson said higher account balances would be a factor in more people coming back to get access to the money.

But he said bigger balances did not mean people would get paid out more money as the payout was only designed to cover living costs.

Jephson said he did not believe the number applying more than once for their KiwiSaver savings signalled a problem with the scheme.

"It's more a social issue than a KiwiSaver issue," he said.

"There are people in hardship out there."

June-Lily Holyoake, manager of the Pakuranga and Howick Budgeting Service, said a lot of people were asking how to get access to their KiwiSaver money.

"It is a regular thing people do. They are looking at it and might have $30k and think I need that money now."

Holyoake said those people were struggling now to put food on the table and pay their rent and were not thinking about their retirement.

But she said KiwiSaver should be the last port of call.

Usually the service tried to get people to look at their financial situation and consider other options before trying to get their money out of the retirement savings account.

Holyoake said those who took their KiwiSaver money out now potentially faced a tough retirement and may have to work longer - a challenge for those in manual jobs.

"We would want it to be the last port of call. But a lot of people can't afford it."

She said one option was for people to take a contribution holiday. Some people got into a bad position by contributing to KiwiSaver while their debts continued to pile up.

Holyoake said the service encouraged people to fill out hardship applications themselves to understand how much work was involved.

"That means they might think twice about it."

In her view Holyoake said some people should not be in KiwiSaver because they did not have any money to save.

Rob Mitchell, a budget adviser at the Papakura budgeting service, said some people applying for a second application had not learned the lesson the first time round.

"Sometimes the request for funds isn't allocated to where it should be."

Mitchell said it did everything it could to try and find another solution for people rather than taking their money out of KiwiSaver.

"Because that is their long-term savings."

But he said budgeting advice could only provide people with a choice.

"At the end of the day you can't force it on them."

Mitchell said hardship applications were on the rise and rent arrears was a common theme among those applying, particularly in Auckland where rents were so high.

KiwiSaver architect Sir Michael Cullen recently said the scheme should be made compulsory to prevent widening inequality at retirement between those who join and those who do not.

But the Government has said it would not be forcing people to sign up to the scheme because it believed individuals should choose what to do with their own money.