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A little shaky on super

THE stock market correction in the wake of the September 11 attacks may not have hit investors in the long term, but it proved a major scare for those approaching retirement.

Retiring baby boomers faced losses of up to $19 billion, or a write down of 16 per cent, from their superannuation funds in the weeks following the attacks.

The concern from retirees showed up in the latest quarterly bulletin released by the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, which had to deal with a 14.6 per cent jump in complaints.

Tribunal chairman Graham McDonald, in the tribunal’s fourth quarter bulletin, said the increase in complaints to 540 “no doubt reflects the downturn in the market at the time most funds report to their members”.

Mr McDonald called on superannuation trustees to ensure that all proper systems were in place to help minimise the workload of the tribunal, which is funded by the trustees via a levy.

“It is in the best interests of all superannuation members for the tribunal not to be over-utilised,” Mr McDonald said.

“Accordingly, every effort should be made by trustees to ensure the highest degree of member satisfaction possible.

“The tribunal repeats that clear communication with members often results in the member accepting the trustees’ decision.

“While there may be no duty at law to give reasons for a decision, the trustees are all aware that the lack of any information and/or reasons upon which the trustee has reached a decision will almost inevitably result in the member appealing.”

While the number of complaints was on the increase, strict compliant procedures meant many of the concerns from superannuation members were ignored. There were 139 complaints that failed to comply with section 19 of the Superannuation (Resolution of Complaints) Act 1993.

Under Section 19, the member must first put the complaint in writing to the superannuation trustee and give them 90 days to consider the complaint.

Mr McDonald told Business News that, while there was a high number of complaints the tribunal could not deal with simply because they were not lodged in accordance to the law, those complaints were not thrown out, but handed over to the trustees.

Mr McDonald believes the increase in the number of complaints also was a result of the greater sums that individuals have invested in super, so more money was at stake.

The tribunal has had a chequered history. For three years it could not operate, as its legality under the Australian Constitution was questioned.

In 2000, the High Court rubber-stamped the tribunal’s powers, recognising its authority to operate, although the Federal Court still presents an impediment to its operation, ruling against the tribunal on more than one occasion.

And, late last year the Productivity Commission handed down a report to the Government, which recommended, among other things, making the tribunal an industry-run watchdog, not unlike the Banking Ombudsman. However, the industry has rejected the recommendations because of the compulsory nature of superannuation.

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