HomeFinanceWidows' distress compounded by delays to super payouts

Widows’ distress compounded by delays to super payouts

Carolyn Hocking was at work when she got a call to say her husband had collapsed.

After 40 years together, Mrs Hocking’s partner Alan died “very suddenly” from a heart attack on 18 February 2022.

“[He] literally dropped dead,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings.

“It was very traumatic.”

Her distress was compounded when she tried to access her husband’s superannuation from Cbus Super.

As sole beneficiary of Mr Hocking’s superannuation and will, Mrs Hocking thought it would be a straightforward process.

Instead, there was a 16-week wait to get a death certificate from the coroner, followed by a back and forth with Cbus regarding paperwork that “all had to go in by mail”, not email.

Mrs Hocking said the forms were submitted in October, then months went by without any communication.

She said surviving financially for more than a year without her husband’s income or superannuation was “pretty tough”.

“My house is just about falling apart and I’m just waiting for this money,” she said.

After months of calling Cbus for updates, Mrs Hocking received her husband’s superannuation in her bank account last Thursday – 15 months after Mr Hocking’s death.

On Monday morning she was yet to receive any written communication about the payment being made.

She said the “fight” for the money “was horrendous”, particularly at a time of great emotional distress.

“There is no joy in getting your deceased husband’s money,” she said.

“I don’t know why everything has to be so hard.”

Poor communication, added distress

Lauren Hall said she had had trouble accessing her husband’s superannuation after he died in January, leaving her with two young children.

She said she submitted a claim to Cbus Super in the weeks after her husband’s death and said many of her phone calls and emails to the fund had gone unanswered.

“Obviously you need to check it is going to the right person, but the silence is the hardest thing to deal with,” she said.

“Cbus … are not looking after their members and their members’ families.”

A bride and groom kiss on their wedding day.
Rowan and Lauren Hall on their wedding day. (Supplied: Lauren Hall)

Ms Hall said her children had occasionally had to go without in the past few months, and she had had to delay some payments while she waited for the money.

“With two young children … all the costs continue,” she said.

“It’s a big adjustment, fending for yourself.”

After she spoke to the ABC, Ms Hall said Cbus contacted her and had fast-tracked her claim.

Cbus apologises

Cbus chief member officer Marianne Walker said the fund understood claiming superannuation after a loved one’s death was stressful and that it tried to make “a complicated process as stress free as possible”.

She said most simple claims should be concluded within eight weeks of documents being received.

“This has clearly not been the cases in Carolyn and Lauren’s instances and we are conducting a review into where both process and communication has fallen down,” Ms Walker said.

“I spoke to Carolyn and Lauren today and have apologised on behalf of the fund.”

Calls to streamline process

The advocacy group for superannuation consumers is calling for funds to simplify their claims processes to avoid unnecessary delays.

“It’s a very emotional time so they need to make all the technical processes as simple as possible so people can make the claim in a way that is convenient to them,” Super Consumers Australia director Xavier O’Halloran said.

“Costs pile up when a partner passes away so these types of delays can cause real harm to people.”

A man in a white shirt reads through papers as he sits on a couch.
Xavier O’Halloran says he regularly hears about delays in accessing superannuation. (ABC News: Fletcher Yeung)

He said complaints about submitting paperwork, including funds only accepting hard copies, were common.

“In this day and age not accepting digital copies is not acceptable,” he said.

Superannuation trustees and beneficiaries are separate to a person’s will, so when someone dies there can be two different processes to distribute a person’s financial assets.

While it wasn’t a problem in the cases outlined by the ABC, Mr O’Halloran said many people did not realise they had to nominate a beneficiary with their super fund and that nominations expired regularly.

“We’ve called for an inquiry into this to streamline the process for people,” he said.

“We can see the need for greater simplification because at the moment it is confusing.”

2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
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