Ignorant Estonians leave Australia without thousands of dollars

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Thousands of euros due to Estonians get left languishing in Australia – the people unaware that once visa expires, pension funds accumulated there may be withdrawn.

«The average Estonian headed to Australia has no idea that he is supposed to get money back from there, and they know not how to check that,» said Harry Liimal, a jurist and development head for  Studenttour, an organisation mediating work and travel programmes for youth.

Mr Liimal said many don’t know they may withdraw their pension once they leave Australia, and those that do know are often unable to dig through the system. «Some do know it is possible to apply for the funds to be returned, and Estonians do talk about it amongst themselves, but the issue remains how to get hold of the money in reality,» added Mr Liimal.

In Australia, pension fund payments are obligatory for all employers regarding any employee making above A$450 a month. In those cases, employers will transfer 9.25 percent of the wages to a fund selected by the employee or the company itself. The sum is not subtracted from the salary, but is paid by the employer. Unlike Estonia, Australian pension funds are not operating at banks, but are standalone private or public enterprises.

Upon leaving Australia, anyone whose visa is no longer valid has the right to claim back the money accumulated into pension fund. Down under, this is called «superannuation». For lots of Estonians working in Australia, this is unknown territory and thus thousands of dollars get forfeited. On the average, a person been in Australia with Working Holiday visa is returned A$3,380 equalling about €2,400.

Karolin (22), having spent six months of 2012 in Australia, only learned about the option a year after leaving the country. «By then, I learned, that from my fund the money had already been transferred to Australian Taxation Office (ATO) which meant I had to do business with them,» she said.

For starters, the pension money indeed sits in one or several funds picked by an employer. If, during six months after the visa expired, an individual has not personally asked the fund to release the money to ATO account, this happens automatically. «Frankly, for me at least the process was excruciatingly time and nerve consuming, as communication with ATO was slow to say the least,» recalls Karolin.

To get the money back, there are two options: filing an e-application at ATO website, or on paper. In Australia, e-state solutions are in their baby shoes and thus the usual is for the system to be dysfunctional at some point or stall while one fills in the application.

«Ideally, it should be that one fills in the application, immediately sees her amounts, and then ATO sends the cheque to your home. The reality is otherwise, of course,» explained Mr Liimal.

Of those back from Australia, many wish to apply to get the pension money back as soon as possible. «I applied immediately after the first year. But if one had definitely planned to stay in Australia for two years, it is better to do it after the second year as one may only apply once,» said Ann (24) who tarried down there for a year.

She added that the sooner one gets it over with the better.

To «assist» backpackers, several intermediaries have appeared who offer to do all the complex paperwork involved. Recently, many of these have been caught systematically cheating customers.

«Firstly, they do take quite a large percentage as a fee, and secondly you will never know if they lie or not, if they have asked the money back from all funds or not,» explained Mr Liimal.

According to ATO spokesperson who answered inquiry by Postimees, they have made progress and year by year people temporarily in Australia are better aware of how to withdraw their old-age pension.

«Year by year, the tax refund applications keep increasing. While in 2010/2011 these numbered 32,700 then in 2013/2014 the amount had grown to 99,296,» she said.

For a smoother run, Mr Liimal advises to pick oneself one fund where employers – as one changes jobs – transfer the money.

Secondly, he says that during one’s entire stay in Australia it pays to check whether employers actually do transfer the money to the fund. Lastly, Mr Liimal suggests that one keep all papers, wage cheques and other data as in high likelihood these will be needed to get the refund.

This is how you do the Internet application:

Start by filling in application at DASP system page: https://applicant.tr.super.ato.gov.au/applicants/default.aspx?pid=1

Be equipped with data of all employers who made payments to your fund.

After you have filled the data, the system will check if you are eligible for refund. If the answer is yes, you are able to keep filling the application. Here, what may obstruct you is if you have not yet left Australia or if your visa is valid.

In case the visa is valid, you may let it be cancelled by filling the form 1,194. With the form, fill parts A, C and D and send it to super.hobart@immi.gov.au. Once the visa is cancelled, you ought to be able to continue filling the application. If you are still located on Australian soil, the option is to simply save the application and continue filing it once you have left the country and the visa has expired.

Once progressing from step No 2, the system will be searching if ATO has data regarding your funds. If the data is found, you are able to continue filling the application concerning each fund. If such data are not found, you can fill every fund’s data yourself, which will then be forwarded to the funds and to ATO.

If the data is correct and has been reviewed by funds and ATO, you ought to receive the bank cheque within 28 days. Should a fund or ATO require additional data, they will contact you.

You will not see the status of your application in the DASP system; for that, you will have to personally contact the fund or ATO.

For additional information visit www.austraaliasse.ee