Superannuation payout complaints soar

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. It can be charged with many emotions – grief, anger, despair, sometimes even relief, if suffering was involved.

Whatever those emotions, it is a period for which we would all expect appropriate support. Such support should come not just from family and friends, but those charged with the administration that comes with loss.

Sadly, when it comes to superannuation payouts for a lost loved one, such support is all too often not forthcoming.

Over the past year, the distressing stories of several widows and widowers have exposed practices resulting in unreasonably long delays in processing superannuation payouts after a death. And according to one advocacy group spokesperson, those highlighted stories are not isolated cases.

“This is a systemic issue,” says Xavier O’Halloran, director of Super Consumers Australia. “We are constantly contacted by people complaining [and superannuation companies] don’t get punished if they take forever.”

According to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), complaints over delays have more than tripled in the past 12 months.

Superannuation payouts – not just numbers

Those AFCA figures are disturbing, and they’re made far more so when the stories of each affected individual are told.

Take the experience of John Bothman, for example. When he lost his partner of five decades, Julie, a 77-year-old nurse, he was naturally grief-stricken. But rather than being allowed time to process that grief, Mr Bothman found himself in a battle with a superannuation giant.

Incredibly, many months after his partner’s passing, his struggle is not yet over. In March, his partner’s fund, Aware Super, informed him that he was the nominated beneficiary of her superannuation payout.

But instead of receiving the funds, what followed were months of hiccups, roadblocks, mistakes and delays. Among the 16 documented transactions Mr Bothman had with Aware were forms being sent to an incorrect email address and, bizarrely, a second request for a death certificate.

To this day, Mr Bothman does not know the reason for that second request. “To have to go back to that department where I spent the last five days [of her life] watching her die … it was a fairly harrowing experience,” he said.

Even after engaging the services of a lawyer, Mr Bothman continued to encounter hurdles.

The tip of an iceberg?

Mr Bothman’s experience mirrors in many ways that of widows Carolyn Hocking and Lauren Hall. Both Ms Hocking and Ms Hall encountered long delays in receiving superannuation payouts from their partners’ super provider Cbus.

In Ms Hocking’s case, not all of the delays lay at the feet of Cbus. It took 16 weeks for the coroner to provide her with a death certificate. But other aspects of the delay seemed attributable to the super giant. All correspondence had to be done via post rather than email, for example.

Ms Hall’s experience entailed many unanswered calls and emails over an extended period.

Is there a fix?

Mr O’Halloran believes part of the problem stems from the fact that there are no mandated time frames for processing payouts. “This voluntary system of dealing with claims has really failed,” he said.

“We’re talking about people who’ve had a loved one pass away that might be relying on that income in order to live [and] they’re left in the lurch for months,” he said.

Financial services lawyer Fiona Halsey says while benchmark time frames would be welcome, allowances need to be made for complex cases.

But AFCA says many superannuation payout delays are simply unnecessary. Heather Gray, who rules on complaints about death benefit claims for the AFCA, agrees.

“We see situations where there has been a lengthy delay. There’s really no good explanation for it other than the resourcing issue that a lot of funds and insurers have,” she says.

Until systemic improvements are made, Ms Halsey’s advice is to make sure all paperwork is up to date. This includes stated wishes in death benefit nomination forms, as these regularly expire.

Have you been through the process of claiming a superannuation payout after the loss of a loved one? How did you find it? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: What’s behind the shocking decline in superannuation satisfaction?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I just had the same experience with one of the very large funds. I was the nominated beneficiary for my wife’s super and I applied quite soon after she died. I actually just received the funds last week but it has taken two years.

  2. Thhat is disgusting , Gordon. Suppopsing you were relyiong on that money to cover funeral costs and assist children with air transport if necessaary. If that was me, I would, without hesitatrion, name that company to prepoare others who have super with them, so thatr trhey can switch compnies to a more reliable one.

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