Leah wanted to withdraw her savings early from KiwiSaver. She had incurable cancer and was not expected to reach the retirement age (65 years of age).
Leah applied for an early withdrawal on the grounds of serious illness. The supervisor of Leah’s KiwiSaver scheme declined her application. The supervisor was not satisfied Leah met the criteria for an early withdrawal. The doctor that completed the medical declaration on Leah’s withdrawal application certified that she did not meet the criteria. She was expected to live for at least another 12 months.
Under the KiwiSaver Act 2006, a KiwiSaver member can only make a serious illness withdrawal if the supervisor is reasonably satisfied the member is suffering from serious illness.
Serious illness is defined in the Act. It means an injury, illness, or disability that either:
- poses a serious and imminent risk of death, or
- results in the member being totally and permanently unable to engage in work for which they are suited by reason of experience, education, or training.
Leah complained to FSCL that the supervisor’s decision was unfair. She believed she should be entitled to access her savings early.
The supervisor maintained that Leah did not meet the criteria for a serious illness withdrawal.
Leah believed it was unfair that she could not withdraw her savings. She was not going to need the savings for her retirement because she would not live to the retirement age. She was also unable to use KiwiSaver to help buy a home. She would not be able to get a home loan because of her prognosis.
Leah also believed it was unfair that she could not access her savings early because she was still able to work. While she continued to work for financial reasons, she had sacrificed time spent working which she could have spent with her family.
Leah also said it was arbitrary that someone with a life-shortening congenital illness can access their KiwiSaver early, but she could not because her life-shortening medical condition was not congenital (a condition present from birth).
Leah also noted that some KiwiSaver members were able to access KiwiSaver early if they had been financially affected by the devastating cyclones in early 2023. Leah challenged why she was also not worthy of similar compassion and empathy.
When considering a complaint about a declined early KiwiSaver withdrawal, FSCL must have regard to the law. A supervisor can only approve a withdrawal if it is reasonably satisfied, based on the medical evidence before it, that the member meets the withdrawal criteria in the Act.
In Leah’s case, we concluded that the supervisor’s decision to decline her application was reasonable given the medical declaration that she did not meet the withdrawal criteria. We had no reason to believe the declaration was inaccurate. Leah was working and she was not at imminent risk of death.
We take imminent to mean that death must be about to happen, or is very likely to happen soon, in the next 6–12 months. Leah’s prognosis was more than 12 months.
Leah agreed to discontinue her complaint when we explained the law and our view that the supervisor’s decision was reasonable.
Insights for consumers
The threshold for an early KiwiSaver withdrawal on the grounds of serious illness is very high. A member can only make a serious illness withdrawal if the supervisor is reasonably satisfied the member is suffering from serious illness, as defined in the Act.
A member who is not eligible for a serious illness withdrawal may wish to contact their KiwiSaver provider to discuss whether they may be eligible for a significant financial hardship withdrawal instead. A member may be eligible if significant financial difficulties have arisen because of a medical condition, for example, because of medical treatment costs or the member has reduced their working hours.