Tim’s big KiwiSaver win was only fair

Tim Fairhall won a huge victory this year. He convinced the Government to give early access to KiwiSaver savings for people like him with life-shortening conditions.

Tim has been putting money into his KiwiSaver account and wants to use it to travel but he can’t wait until he is 65. He has Down syndrome and will need to retire from work much earlier than that. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome is closer to 57 years than the average age of 81 for the general population.

So Tim went with his mother Joan Fairhall to Parliament to tell MPs that KiwiSaver rules were not fair to him and people like him who expect to die early. Tim says he told MPs that his dream was to travel. “I want to follow my dream. My dream is to see my brother Scott and my niece Diana. My other dream is to see Tom in Canada.”

His brother Scott Fairhall is Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Trento in northern Italy and his best friend Tom is a former A Supported Life staff member who now lives in Canada.

Tim is now waiting for the law to change and he’s looking forward to his trip of a lifetime. Tim has worked part-time at the Te Atatu Countdown supermarket for 15 years. He turned 40 in June and Joan says it is likely he will retire in his mid-40s. “I certainly want him to do this great trip before he gets to the point where it is too hard.”

Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi said in July the rules would be changed to create a new category for early withdrawal of KiwiSaver funds for anyone with a life-shortening congenital condition.

“I want to see Tim and others like him have the ability to use their KiwiSaver to support their wellbeing in their retirement, which is unlikely to be at age 65,” Kris Faafoi said. The new withdrawal category will have a set list of conditions named in regulations that will automatically qualify people for withdrawal. 

There will also be an alternative process for people who have a congenital condition not named in regulations to apply to their KiwiSaver provider to withdraw their savings.

The two advisers appointed to look at potential changes, Donna Mitchell, IHC General Manager of Service Development and Strategy, and Dr Claire Matthews, Director of Academic Quality at the Massey Business School, recommended that five congenital conditions qualify for early withdrawal of funds – Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s chorea, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

Claire says they named five conditions that were more common and for which the evidence of a shortened lifespan was available. She didn’t see a risk in naming certain conditions for early access and not others. “If there are conditions where it is quite clear there is a life-shortening element and congenital, then why not make it easier?” she says. 

As to whether KiwiSaver is a good option for people with disabilities, Claire says it is a good idea for them to get financial advice – as it is for everyone. “It is a fundamental problem for fund managers,” she says. “The way KiwiSaver is classified as a financial services product makes it challenging to provide anything but full financial advice. People need advice.” 

Donna says it was important to look at the intent of the scheme. KiwiSaver was not just there to provide funds for retirement, but to allow people to experience a productive and enjoyable retirement. This was also true for people with disabilities. 

Equally important was for everyone to have access to good financial advice and support in making decisions. “I think planning for your retirement is a good thing for all New Zealanders,” she says. 

The changes to KiwiSaver have been incorporated into the Taxation (KiwiSaver, Student Loans, and Remedial Matters) Bill, and are expected to be passed into law before the end of the year.

Photo caption: Tim and Joan Fairhall got MPs to see sense over KiwiSaver. Tim was one of three nominees for this year’s Attitude Leadership Award announced recently in Auckland.


This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

Read the full issue of Community Moves online here.