Can you start working again after receiving your super?

Written and accurate as at: 11 April 2024

Circumstances are prone to change, and there are plenty of reasons why you might be considering returning to work after having retired. Your savings might be dwindling faster than you planned. Or you might just be feeling restless and looking for something extra to fill your day. 

But is this allowed if you’ve already accessed your super? Fortunately, you’re not obligated to stay retired if you get the itch to work, but the rules dictating when and how you resume employment will vary depending on how old you are and which definition of retirement you meet.

You have reached preservation age and decide to retire

If you’ve reached your preservation age and want to access your retirement savings, you’ll need to sign a declaration form stating your intent to permanently retire. 

This declaration is taken very seriously by both your super fund and the ATO, who are constantly on the lookout for attempts to illegally access super (though it’s admittedly SMSFs that warrant the most scrutiny).

But this doesn’t mean you’re prohibited from ever working again. Provided your intentions to retire were genuine at the time, you’re unlikely to run into trouble if you change your mind at a later date. Where super funds might take issue is if you declared your intent to retire, withdrew your super, and then quickly went back to work. 

You reach age 60 and decide to cease employment

Once you turn 60, the rules start to relax. Your super will become accessible once you have notified your super fund that you have ceased a gainful employment relationship. 

This means your super balance on the date you cease work will be accessible, even if you return to work. However, any growth or contributions accumulated after you ceased work won’t be accessible until you finish another job or reach age 65.  

You turn 65

The other big condition of release under super law is turning 65. Once you reach this point, you’ll have unrestricted access to your super regardless of your employment status. That means you don’t even have to stop work to start drawing down your super.

Does your account-based pension stop if you go back to work?

You might have withdrawn your super as a lump sum payment, converted it into an income stream (for example, an account-based pension), or opted for some combination of both. Whatever the case, if you change your mind about retirement and are permitted to start working again, you’ll still be able to keep your account-based pension running.

What about future super contributions?

Returning to work means your employer will resume making compulsory super contributions on your behalf. These contributions (along with any voluntary contributions you make) will need to go somewhere, so you’ll have to re-open an accumulation account. 

Unlike the super you’ve already gained access to, these particular contributions will be preserved until you meet another condition of release. 

If you’re planning on being your own boss, you’ll need to manage your super yourself. While you may not be obligated to contribute a portion of your income to your super, doing so can be worth the effort, if only for the more favourable tax treatment it might receive (depending on your total income).

What if you receive the Age Pension?

You might be receiving the Age Pension instead of or in addition to your super. If this is the case, you can still return to work, but you should be aware that  income you earn may be included in Centrelink’s income test. This is the test used to determine your rate of payment.

Fortunately, there are measures which let pensioners keep more of their pension while receiving money from work. For example, the Work Bonus scheme reduces the amount of eligible income included in the income test by $300 per fortnight.

When combined with the pension income free area (which is $204 a fortnight for single pensioners), this means a single pensioner could earn up to $504 per fortnight in work related income and still receive the maximum amount of pension.