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Inquiry probes super funds for home ownership data

A parliamentary inquiry has come up empty after pushing super funds for information on members’ home ownership, while questions have been raised around the agenda of the committee chair.

A new round of recently released super funds’ answers to questions on notice from the House of Representatives standing committee on economics has shown a focus on retirees’ housing status.

Funds ranging across the retail and industry segments have had to answer questions on whether they invest in residential property, build-to-rent housing and social housing as well as give information on the rates of home ownership among members.

The vast majority of funds stated they do not collect data on members’ housing status, denying they’d ever completed internal research or commissioned external agencies to find out rates of property ownership in retirement.

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“We do not have any such data, nor would we want to enquire into a retiree’s confidential private affairs,” Fiducian Super wrote in response to a question on how many members had used their super for renovations and clearing mortgages.

Sunsuper similarly said it does not collect information on home ownership from members, although it may discover their status through the fact find process when providing personal advice. However, the information is not held in a central database and it is not aggregated or used for another purpose.

TWUSuper proved to be an exception, admitting that in 2016 it commissioned a survey of 2,000 members on demographic information – where it found more than half (59 per cent) of respondents owned their home or had a mortgage.

The committee’s chair, Liberal MP Tim Wilson has led a campaign pushing for policy that would allow early release of superannuation savings to place towards a house deposit, in an effort to allow young people to enter the housing market.

Mr Wilson has continued to push the “Home First, Super Second” idea, despite Superannuation Minister Jane Hume signalling the government would not consider it.

Industry Super Australia chief executive Bernie Dean recently accused Mr Wilson of abusing his power in a letter to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, insisting the Liberal MP was using the inquiry into financial institutions to gain information for his own campaigning.

“As you would be aware, Mr Wilson is actively campaigning on the issue of using super for a house deposit. He also publicly opposes investments by super funds in affordable housing among other assets,” Mr Dean wrote to Mr Frydenberg.

“The questions appear designed to leverage funds’ openness to engage with the committee under the original terms of reference but are clearly intended for personal use by Mr Wilson in support of his ongoing political campaigns.”

Mr Wilson has also suggested that super funds should be banned from investing in property, if consumers are not able to withdraw their savings for deposits.

In the newly release answers, a number of funds, including Sunsuper, TWUSuper, Verve, First Super, and Mercer in its capacity as a trustee, indicated their frameworks do allow for investments in residential property and affordable housing.

Others, such as Tasplan, Zurich’s Master Super Fund, Prime Super, MyLife MyMoney, Mine Super, Future Super, Equip Super and Catholic Super reported they have no allocations to residential property.

Some such as Zurich said they cannot invest in the specific asset classes, while others allow it in their investment policies.

Mr Wilson’s leadership of the inquiry also received backlash from IFM Investors in January, when it revealed the MP had issued all but three of the almost 100 questions it received from the committee.

Inquiry probes super funds for home ownership data
Liberal MP Tim Wilson
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