Let first home buyers access super funds, lender says

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Treasurer Joe Hockey caused quite the kerfuffle this week when he commented that increasing the age people can access their superannuation should be a focus this parliamentary term.

But a South Australian lender has made a submission to the Senate Inquiry on Affordable Housing saying that actually borrowers should be able to access their superannuation to overcome the upfront costs of buying a first home.

HomeStart Finance put forward the as a potential solution to help tackle the dearth of first home buyers.

The scheme is based on the successful Canadian Home Buyer’s Plan, which allows first home buyers to withdraw C$25,000 from their super fund to buy or build a home to live in – on condition the money is repaid to the super fund within 15 years.

HomeStart gave an example: A new graduate entering the workforce perhaps on a wage of $50,000 per year would be expected to accumulate over $30,000 in super in their first six years of working. If they were to access $20,000 of these funds and then repay this amount over 15 years then 20 years later they would have significant equity in their own home, and have almost $360,000 in super.

The impact of withdrawing the funds means the person would, after 20 years have about $23,000 less super than if they had not withdrawn the funds.

CEO John Oliver believes such a scheme in Australia would be best suited to first home buyers.

“It is ironic that a household in difficulty with their mortgage has the option to access superannuation to clear arrears, whereas a first home buyer in an otherwise good financial condition cannot temporarily access their super for a deposit and then replenish those funds over an extended period as occurs in Canada,” he said.

Oliver said making home loans accessible to all segments of the community was a key ingredient to lifting home ownership rates and boosting the economy.

“We urge the Senate Committee to consider the success of existing home ownership assistance models in Australia like HomeStart that accept lower deposits, a wider range of income sources for loan servicing, and provide alternatives for paying lender’s mortgage insurance,” he said.

“Approximately 80% of our customers are unable to get a loan from mainstream sources, but our experience proves this segment of the community can be successful home buyers.”

HomeStart, a statutory authority which reports to the South Australian government, suggested the nation should copy its successful home ownership assistance model.

Since it was started 25 years ago it has settled more than 64,500 loans and manages a loan portfolio of $1.9 billion.

“Nationally, affordable housing policy typically leaves the provision of finance entirely up to the private sector but there is strong evidence to prove that there are worthy areas of the market not covered by the private sector, and an organisation such as HomeStart makes an important contribution in meeting those needs,” Oliver said.

In contrast to HomeStart’s submission, Treasurer Joe Hockey has just foreshadowed a rise in the age that people can access their superannuation during an ABC question and answer session.

He said he government will have “more to say about retirement” within the current term in order to give people a “long lead time”.

“I think it's something that we need to have a proper process to discuss, with all the affected stakeholders,” he said, before being pressed further by host Tony Jones and conceding that a rise could indeed become a reality in the near future.

“It is on my mind and it’s on Tony Abbott's mind. We’re thinking about how we’re going to make sure that the quality of life for Australians into the future is sustainable,” Hockey said.