The Australian Tax Office has identified lack of awareness of multiple super accounts among remote Indigenous communities as a recurring theme across the country and a challenge for the body going forward.
The ATO has committed to providing a number of channels to engage with Indigenous people, including online services, a phone hotline and face-to-face engagement in remote areas.
During tax season, the government body will roll out its pop-up office program across 26 areas in Australia, including 17 remote and regional locations. Alice Springs and Port Hedland are within the list of places identified as having a significant Indigenous population.
The initiative is one a few the tax office has rolled out to provide face-to-face advice for superannuation.
Graham Whyte, assistant commissioner of superannuation at the ATO said in an address at the Indigenous Superannuation Summit there were a number of reasons why Indigenous people had been limited in fully engaging with the super system.
“Feedback provided from community members has been that many were not aware they had several super accounts. This is proving a common theme, and will be an ongoing challenge for the ATO going forward across Australia,” Mr Whyte said.
“We understand that there are a number of issues that impact Indigenous people’s participation in the superannuation system, including but not limited to, engagement/access, levels of financial literacy, understanding and a lack of understanding of members cultural norms and identification.
“The ATO understands that difficulties with remoteness, internet access and language impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s access. In recognition of these difficulties, we use a tailored approach to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
The tax office’s Indigenous hotline, which has been in operation since 2011, saw 19,500 calls in 2018-19. In July it received almost 6,000 calls.
In July, the government body participated in First Nations Foundation’s Big Super Day Out, a travelling roadshow focused on super awareness for Indigenous people, which visited Darwin, Kunurra and Broome this year.
The ATO reported it was able to reconnect 170 people at the events with more than $4.37 million in super.
“In one of our remote community visits, we helped a woman approaching retirement discover she had over $120,000 in super of which she was unaware,” Mr Whyte said.
“In another case, a man discovered he had accumulated more than $170,000 in super.”
Earlier in the year, in May, the tax office, along with regulator AUSTRAC, MoneyMob, First Nations Foundation and various funds, supported the ASIC Indigenous Outreach program in a visit to a remote community in APY Lands in South Australia.
The visit centred around superannuation literacy and education, with assistance to find lost super, consolidating multiple accounts and explaining accessing super early or upon retirement.
There, the tax office managed to recover $3.5 million of super accounts for individuals, also helping to consolidate multiple accounts.
Over five days, the ATO reported it served around 500 individuals, engaging with many people under the age of 25.
The ATO has also achieved 2.5 per cent Indigenous representation as part of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy.
It increased its target for employees completing cultural awareness training between 2018 and 2020 from 5 per cent to 20 per cent.
Mr Whyte added the ATO will continue to partner with First Nations Foundation and along with ASIC’s outreach program.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].