19 Oct 2021

KiwiSaver withdrawals on the rise as lockdowns cause financial hardship

4:00 pm on 19 October 2021

Financial hardship brought on by the lockdown is pushing more people try to make withdrawals from their KiwiSaver to cover outstanding debts.

New Zealand banknotes, pen and calculator on background with rising trend green line

File image. Photo: 123RF

Disputes resolution organisation Financial Services Complaints said it had recorded a 5 to 10 percent increase in the number of complaints from people who had failed to access money on hardship grounds from their KiwiSaver provider.

The organisation tended to receive about 100 complaints per month.

FSCL chief executive Susan Taylor said: "By and large the people coming through to us have got a lot of debt and they are having trouble servicing that debt, and are wanting to access their KiwiSavers to help pay that debt.

"We are expecting to see more of these complaints come through, particularly as the lockdown in various parts of the country continue."

Accessing KiwiSaver funds before a person reaches the age of retirement is generally restricted but there are some exceptions. Those include putting KiwiSaver funds towards a first home, permanently moving overseas, health reasons, or if a person enters significant financial hardship.

Complaints aside, Taylor said she had been made aware from budgeting advisors that there had been a 25 percent to 40 percent in the number of payouts that had been approved.

"It needs to be remembered of course that KiwiSaver is there for people's retirement, that's their retirement savings, and the aim is that people are saving a nest egg for their retirement.

"It is disheartening when you see that people are having to access those funds that are set aside for retirement to pay off current debts.

"[It] obviously [is] affecting their longer term future and the amount of the money they will available when they retire."

Most of the debt was related to vehicle or personal loans, she said.

New data from credit reporting bureau Centrix showed the number of accounts in arrears, across mortgages, credit cards and other forms of debt, had risen sharply over the past two months.

financial hardship on the rise

Photo: Supplied / Centrix

Centrix managing director Keith McLaughlin said arrears levels so far had been "relatively flat during this lockdown but financial hardship is definitely on the rise as it was during the last lockdown".

"Cases of financial hardship have increased by 14 percent during this lockdown (mostly on mortgage and credit card debt)."

Data since the latest outbreak was not as high as what was recorded a year ago, but it was consistently climbing week on week, he said.

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