In a report that presents a major challenge to superannuation funds and the Federal Government, the Melbourne Institute said findings from the survey showed that those earning low incomes were seen to be disadvantaged by the superannuation system.
About half of those surveyed believed the system was not suited to the needs of women whose balances were about 40 per cent below that of men.
The report followed revelations that the largest fund Australian Super had overcharged about 100,000 members who had more than one account. It was estimated it would have to repay about $70 million.
“Paying extra fees and insurance premiums for more than one account really adds up,” the group’s deputy director Rosie Thomas said.
“The Productivity Commission found having unnecessary multiple accounts can leave someone over $50,000 worse off in retirement. It’s important we fix this problem across the super system, and getting funds to sort out intra-fund consolidation is the first step.”
The Melbourne Institute survey found that half of those who took part in the survey believed superannuation worked well for them and the vast majority said it favored the wealthy.
More Australians saw the system as unfair than those who thought it was fair and only about a third thought they had enough to for a comfortable retirement.
The results present a problem for the funds and the Federal Government which needs people to actively support superannuation in order to take pressure off pensions payments. Expenditure on the age pension was expected to grow to $72 billion in 2025-26.
Australians had invested about $3.4 trillion in superannuation and for a comfortable retirement a couple would need about $700,000 invested in superannuation.
Those who thought superannuation worked well tended to be married and outright homeowners. Low-income earners and renters were more likely to disagree.
The Melbourne Institute said the results of the survey meant that revising the tax treatment of superannuation could be an important step to enhancing perceived fairness. The Federal Government recently changed the concessional tax treatment of those with superannuation balances above $3 million to be taxed at 30 per cent.
It said it may be better to improve fairness by considering the degree to which taxpayers’ money was best spent in strengthening supports in areas like pensions and public housing, rather than depositing money into risky financial markets on behalf of households.
“Strengthening the public pension improves the safety net for those on lower incomes. Increasing federal rent assistance and expanding public, social and affordable housing are all important for improving outcomes for renters and for reducing elderly poverty rates,” the institute said.
“These policy actions would reduce the pressure on superannuation to provide retirement income for households, producing greater certainty for households and strengthening the political feasibility of the superannuation system by enhancing perceptions of fairness.
Poverty rates for the elderly were currently about 48 per cent and for renters that rose to 60 per cent.
The institute said a major problem for funds and policy makers was that surveys had previously found Australians found superannuation boring, tended to not read their balance statements or shop around for the best fund.