23rd Oct, 2023
With the cost of living crisis and increase in interest rates hitting Australian households, there is growing evidence that many are falling into financial stress. It is with this background that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has issued an open letter to various banks, credit institutions, and lenders, calling on them to ensure that their customers have the appropriate level of support.
ASIC has reminded lenders that under s 72 of the National Credit Code, providers must consider varying a customer’s credit contract if they are notified that these credit obligations are unable to be met. Credit providers must also ensure that credit activities authorised by their licence are engaged in efficiently, honestly and fairly. First and foremost, to meet their obligations, lenders must proactively communicate to customers about the circumstances in which they can seek hardship assistance and the options that are available.
Hardship options may be temporary (eg deferring a payment) or permanent (eg setting up a payment plan or altering/varying loan repayments). Applications for financial hardship will usually be required to provide proof of hardship including reasons for the hardship, current income and other major financial expenses, as well as the level of repayments that can be afforded at the current time.
Customers worried that seeking hardship arrangements will permanently affect their future credit scores can rest easy knowing the effects are only temporary. While hardship arrangements for certain credit products such as loans or credit cards can appear in credit reports, the report will only show the months the arrangement is in place, or if the arrangement is permanent, the month the loan is varied, no other details are included and the listing will be deleted after 12 months.
Where a hardship application is granted, lenders should contact customers as the period of assistance comes to an end, to understand their most up-to-date financial circumstance and consider whether further assistance is required. This includes ensuring that customers understand what happens to any arrears that may exist at the end of the hardship assistance period.
Where a customer’s hardship assistance is denied, written reasons must be provided along with other options including making a complaint to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) about the decision.
11th Apr, 2023
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has released results of its recent review on improving arrangements for life insurance in super funds. The review was conducted as a follow-up to issues first identified in 2019, when ASIC found that some super trustees offered insurance that unnecessarily erodes a member’s retirement balance, inappropriate coverage of insurance due to restrictive definitions and exclusions, and unreasonably onerous or lengthy claims handling processes.
To find out whether improvements had been made in the industry, ASIC used its compulsory information-gathering powers to examine the actions of 15 selected trustees. In total, approximately three million super accounts in these trustees’ funds had death and/or total and permanent disability (TPD) cover, and approximately 800,000 accounts had income protection (IP) cover at 30 June 2022. This information was further supplemented with industry-level data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to gauge the overall level of improvement.
Overall, the report concluded that while the changes observed are a positive step towards reducing risks of members receiving insurance that does not meet their needs or paying for cover they cannot claim on, trustees need to continue improving how they monitor and respond to those risks. ASIC says it will continue to work closely with APRA to drive better practices in the super industry, and will use its regulatory powers where trustees and insurers are not complying with their obligations.
13th Mar, 2022
According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), there has recently been a surge of promoters encouraging individuals to set up self managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) in order to invest in crypto-assets. ASIC warns people to be aware that while crypto-asset investments are allowed for SMSFs, they are high risk and speculative, as well as being an attractive area for scammers targeting uninformed investors.
For example, late last year ASIC moved to shut down an unlicensed financial services business based on the Gold Coast that promised annual investment returns of over 20% by investing in crypto-assets through SMSFs.The money obtained was not invested, but instead allegedly used by the directors of the business for their own personal benefit, including acquiring real property and luxury vehicles in their personal names.
Professional advice should always be sought before deciding on whether an SMSF is appropriate for your circumstances, as there are risks involved in being the trustee of an SMSF, and any SMSF established must meet the “sole-purpose” test.
Remember, SMSF trustees bear all the responsibility for the fund and its investment decisions complying with the law, and breaches may lead to administrative or civil and criminal penalties. This is the case even if you (as the trustee) rely on the advice of other people, licensed or otherwise.
SMSFs are not generally prohibited from investing in crypto-assets – if you do decide, after receiving appropriate advice, that investing in crypto-assets through an SMSF is right for your situation, you can do so.
If you do decide to invest in crypto-assets, whether through an SMSF or as an individual investor, it’s also important to keep accurate records and ensure you report any related income to the ATO.
The ATO’s legal power to gather information is extensive and includes the power to physically enter any place and inspect any document, good or other property – this extends to a physical cryptocurrency wallet. The ATO is also permitted by law to amend a taxpayer’s tax return for an unlimited period where it considers fraud or evasion has occurred – and deliberate non-reporting of gains made from disposals of crypto-assets would meet this description.
10th Feb, 2022
Insurance within super is usually the most cost-effective way for an individual to cover themselves in the event of a mishap. Most super funds typically offer three types of insurance for their members: life cover, total and permanent disability (TPD) and income protection insurance (or salary continuance cover).
Life cover (death cover) pays a lump sum or income stream to beneficiaries upon your death, or in the event of a terminal illness. TPD insurance pays you a benefit if you become seriously disabled and are unlikely to work again. Income protection insurance pays a regular income for a specified period, ranging from two years to five years, or up to a certain age, if you can’t work due to temporary disability or illness.
Recently, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) reviewed the practices of five large super funds that provide default income protection insurance on an opt-out basis to their members, accounting for around 2 million MySuper member accounts.
Overall, ASIC found that most income protection insurance policies contain “offset” clauses, which mean that the insurance benefit is reduced or “offset” if you receive other kinds of income support. This is used as a way to reduce incentives for you to delay your return to work as a result of receiving more income while disabled than when working.
The review also found large variations between super funds in the types of income offset against income protection benefits.
ASIC found that trustees were not proactively giving members clear explanations about when insurance benefits would or would not be paid as a result of offsets. This information is obviously relevant when you’re considering whether to opt out of default income protection insurance, and if you make an insurance claim.
ASIC’s concern isn’t that the offset clauses exist, but that relevant information to explain the clauses was not available in website communications or in welcome packs, and the clauses were only described in technical and legalistic language in insurance guides.
16th Dec, 2021
As investing in cryptocurrency becomes more popular in Australia, there is also a corresponding increase in the number of scams being reported. Due to the unregulated nature of cryptocurrency and the recent failure of two Australian cryptocurrency exchanges, this investment space has become a risky free-for-all, with Scamwatch estimating that around $35 million was lost to cryptocurrency scams in the first half of 2021. If you’re one of the unlucky ones to have been scammed, depending on the circumstances you may be able to claim a capital loss deduction.
Cryptocurrency scams come in a variety of forms, the most common being impersonation, where scammers pretend to be from a reputable trading platform and have legitimate-looking digital assets – like fake trading platforms which look like the real thing and email addresses that impersonate a genuine company – to lure people in. Investors who fall into this trap will usually see the initial money they invested skyrocket on fake trading platforms and may even be allowed to access a small return. Once people are hooked, though, the scammers will typically ask for further investments of large sums of money before cutting off contact and disappearing completely.
Whether you can deduct a loss all boils down to whether you actually owned an asset. For example, if you actually owned cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin in a digital wallet and due to the collapse of an exchange all the cryptocurrency you owned has disappeared, then it is likely you can claim a capital loss. This is likely to also apply if the cryptocurrency you own is stolen in a scam.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that a deduction can be claimed for people who have been scammed into handing over money for supposed “cryptocurrency investment” in schemes where no actual cryptocurrency ownership occurred. This is because they have not technically lost an asset, as they did not own the cryptocurrency in the first place, and the money invested is not considered a capital gains tax (CGT) asset under Australian tax law.
17th Oct, 2020
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has announced new relief measures for operators of managed funds to facilitate withdrawals by members who are facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conditional relief will apply to all responsible entities (REs) of registered managed investment schemes (MIS) that have become “frozen funds”.
At times of extreme market volatility, some managed funds may need to suspend redemptions and freeze funds to protect the interests of the members as a whole. A fund is frozen when the responsible entity has suspended or cancelled redemptions to prevent withdrawals from destabilising their fund. When a fund is frozen members will generally not have access to their investments for a period of time. This does not necessarily mean that there has been a loss of asset value or that investors will not get their money back eventually.
The relief measures will ease some of the statutory restrictions on REs and improve access to investments by members who meet specific hardship criteria. REs will still have to act in the best interests of members.