28 Feb 2023

KiwiSaver queries expected to rise amid severe weather rebuild

6:41 am on 28 February 2023
white piggy bank and New Zealand banknotes of different denominations

Kōura Wealth managing director Rupert Carlyon says he has seen an increase in KiwiSaver queries after the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. File photo Photo: 123RF

The number of people accessing their KiwiSaver to make ends meet is expected to rise as people start to rebuild after the severe weather events of the past few months.

The KiwiSaver scheme was designed to only be accessed when someone retires or purchases their first home, but people can withdrawal savings if they meet the criteria for financial hardship.

Kōura Wealth managing director Rupert Carlyon said he had seen an increase in KiwiSaver queries after the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle.

Accessing KiwiSaver savings under hardship could be a daunting and complicated process and applicants had to prove they had no other options, Carlyon said.

"The key to accessing your KiwiSaver for financial hardship, it's really [about] proving to the supervisor of the KiwiSaver scheme that you've got nowhere else to turn, because that's the key thing for them," he said.

"You are taking away money from your retirement, and so for them, they want to make sure that this really is the last option and you've exhausted all other potential sources of funding."

Carlyon said Kōura Wealth was fielding queries from Auckland residents unable to pay the insurance excess on their severely damaged homes after February's flooding, or who lived in the Hawke's Bay and had been made redundant.

This week, the government expanded temporary accommodation services for people displaced by recent storms to cover regions affected outside of Auckland, including Te Tai Tokerau, Tai Rāwhiti, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Tararua District.

Housing Minister Megan Woods has said estimates showed up to 1800 households in Auckland alone might need temporary accommodation, including hotels, motor lodges and portable accommodation.

Carlyon said some financial advisers ruled out accessing KiwiSaver at any time, even under extreme hardship.

"It can be all too easy to think you need to save for your retirement and you need to stay in KiwiSaver for the long run, but actually, our job is also to help people survive today," he said.

"That, to me, is what it's all about.

"It's about making sure people survive and thrive in the current environment, as well as the future, and if we want people to really buy into our products and really connect with the financial sector, these are the kind of things we need to make as easy as we can."

It was important people accessing their KiwiSaver only withdrew what they needed, because the scheme aimed to accumulate wealth over time, Carlyon said.

"For example, a 35-year-old that takes out $5000 today, if they had left that invested in a growth fund the whole way through, that would be $25,000 by the time they hit 65," he said.

"There is an opportunity cost. If they spend money today and take money out of their KiwiSaver, then they're going to have to fund their retirement from somewhere else.

"It's not free money, it's definitely money that should be used for retirement and that's one of the conversations we have with a lot of our clients. Once they understand the implications of taking it out, some of them change their minds."

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