Is the ATO resourced with unpaid super complaints?

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is lacking transparency when it comes to dealing with unpaid superannuation complaints, says a lawyer from the Young Workers Centre.

Speaking at Industry Super Australia’s (ISA) ‘Fixing the scourge of unpaid super’ webinar, Oanh Tran, principal solicitor, Young Workers Centre, retold the story of a young worker who had approached her for advice following an unpaid super complaint to the ATO.

The case involved a 17-year-old who was not paid super by her employer and who only started to receive payments into her super account in August 2021, two years after first approaching the Young Workers Centre, according to Tran.

“She was never informed by the ATO whether or not they were pursuing the employer, she was not informed how much the ATO considered the employer owed,” Tran said.

“And the employer was paying things like $10 a month out of a total of what we calculated to be more than $4,000 owed in super for three year or four.”

Tran confirmed neither the Young Workers Centre or the complainant was able to find out the amount of super backpay or when she would receive it.

“She’s now not going to be able to get any of it at all because the employer has entered into liquidation, so that’s another problem,” Tran said.

According to Industry Super modelling, one in four super fund members have lost out on $5 billion of unpaid super.

ISA’s report found almost three million workers lost on average $1,700 in super each year with those "dudded” on their super retiring with up to $60,000 less.

Tran said, of the matters that had come to the Young Workers Centre, she had very rarely seen the ATO issue infringing directors with penalty notices.

Super Consumers director Xavier O’Halloran said the National Audit Office would be looking into the ATO in the coming year to unpack if there were sufficient resources to track down non-payment of super.

“The ATO has almost a complete picture of what’s going on with employee’s salaries and superannuation guarantee contributions, they’ve got the right penalties, the question remains for me remains do they have the right resources to get on and do their job?” O’Halloran said.

ISA chief executive, Bernie Dean, said many workers were not even aware employers could make super payments every quarter, instead assuming that payments were made in real-time because super was included on their payslips.

“The vast majority of employers are doing the right thing, they have automated payroll systems – these days you would actually have to go out of your way not to pay your workers on payday,” Dean said.

In response to the problem, ISA was embarking on a lobbying campaign to get politicians to bring in real-time payments of super.

O’Halloran said the issue for effected consumers extended beyond them retiring with less, as non-payment of super could impact their insurance as well – indicating a need for greater education about the issue.

In 2020, the Federal Government announced $588 million in unpaid super had been reunited with workers because of a temporary amnesty period

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