New Zealand Law Society - Superannuitants, beware the ides of ACC law

Superannuitants, beware the ides of ACC law

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I was talking to a barrister in a regional area who has recently reached the age which qualified him to receive national superannuation. He was very happy with the system which allows him to continue receiving his not inconsiderable income as well as national super and wondered how long this could last with the growing number of people reaching the super qualifying age.

We chatted about his busy practice and his leisure activities which included deer stalking, duck shooting, golf and other exciting outdoor activities which he has indulged in for years. We talked about whether age should prevent anyone from many of these outdoor activities and he said: “Thank God for ACC. If I have an accident I’ll be okay”.

I immediately disabused him and pointed out that he could only get weekly compensation payments from ACC as well as national super for 12 months. After that he would have to make an election whether he would take the weekly compo at 80% of his pre-accident earnings or national super but he couldn’t have both.

Although I knew over the years he had been involved in a number of ACC cases, he exploded.

“What,” he said. “That can’t be right. National super is not means tested and I have to pay the ACC levy on my earnings. In any case ACC weekly payments are to make up for my loss of earnings when I can’t work. They aren’t some sort of benefit paid by the government.”

He was furious and began mouthing off about a breach of the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act and even ILO Convention 121 which would apply if he had an accident while working. He said in all the years he had been doing ACC cases he had never come across this provision, which is hidden in clause 52 of Schedule 1 of the Accident Compensation Act 2001.

I told him he would be wasting his time if he looked for guidance from material put out by the ACC, the Ministry of Social Development or the Commissioner for Financial Capability or even the research papers from PWC which all encourage superannuitants to keep working in retirement without warning them of the problems that can arise if they have an accident.

I told him the Law Society was taking the matter up with the Minister but I advised him not to hold his breath waiting for a favourable outcome.

It is timely to warn all lawyers of these provisions in the ACC legislation which can affect them if they already receiving, or are about to qualify to receive, national super. They should also point these provisions out to any client who is on national super and is still working.

These provisions are particularly important to bankers and others who lend to superannuitants who set up business or borrow money after they qualify for national super on the assumption that their super will always be available to meet expenses.

Don Rennie is the convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s ACC Committee. Mr Rennie has been involved in ACC since the days of its establishment and was a special consultant to the three commissioners who set up the ACC, established by the 1972 legislation.

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