Reunited with my super after 15 years but where has it been?


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Last July, I received a surprise $4241 boost to my superannuation.

As I am currently on maternity leave, I assumed it was a delayed payout, but thought it was strange that the credit was cryptically labeled "Superannuation Guarantee Voucher" and did not specify it was from my employer.

I didn't think too much of it until a former work colleague and friend, who two months later, asked if I recently received any unusual amounts in my account. It turns out that she received $15,000 in super from a company we used to work at from over 15 years ago.

lost super ato

A few days later, I received a ping from the Australian Taxation Office via myGov confirming what I suspected.

The letter didn't provide any useful details other than the remitting company, the amounts and the two financial years they related to.

I rang the ATO for more information but the customer service representative kept mum.

He couldn't explain how or when this long-lost super came about. He rattled off possibilities that an employee could've unearthed the missing money or that the company could've been audited. He also couldn't provide a breakdown between the super and interest components.

"How do I know if I have been paid correctly if you cannot give me more information?" I asked, to which he didn't give an answer.

"My super is invested aggressively," I pressed on. "The earning potential of $4241 invested in shares from 15 years ago is massive. I should be paid that difference!" He chuckles.

"Well, can you at least explain why there is a large gap between the payments and the ATO informing me?"

"There must be a delay in the system," he said.

I emailed my former boss to get to the bottom of it. Further fuelling my frustration, I was ignored.

I asked other former colleagues to see if they received any unusual super payments and most didn't bother to check, either because they didn't know how to log in to their account or didn't get around to it - which speaks volumes of how deeply rooted the unengagement problem is.

I regularly check my account, rebalance my portfolio and reassess my cover according to life circumstances, so I'm considered somewhat 'engaged'.

My former company, which operates in financial services, hires financially savvy people. Yet not one person noticed they were missing thousands of dollars in retirement money.

If this flew under all our radars, what chance would other everyday Aussies have in knowing they are receiving what they're owed?

If the ATO obfuscates basic information that workers have every right to, how will its lack of transparency help us avoid such pitfalls with future employers?

While the onus ultimately rests on us to ensure we are paid the correct wages and superannuation, ingrained overreliance and misplaced trust in a broken payroll system will not change anytime soon until the government undertakes more effective measures.

Until then, the super industry and consumer advocates will continue to excoriate the government for enabling unpaid super to reach such immense heights.

The latest estimates from Industry Super Australia show that workers were underpaid $33 billion in super over seven years. Some $4.3 billion that went begging in 2019-20 alone makes two things clear: the ATO's ineptitude in managing the problem and an archaic system that mandates super to be paid every quarter screaming for an overhaul.

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Karren Vergara is a financial journalist with Financial Standard, covering wealth management, including superannuation, banking and financial planning. Prior to becoming a journalist, she was an accountant for more 10 years. She has a diploma in journalism and Bachelor's degree in business, both from UTS.
Chris Eiberger
October 29, 2022 9.58am

The issue is that people do not keep track of their super payments - even people who claim to be 'savvy' or 'engaged'. These same people would notice a dollar missing from their weekly pay. Those folks would not sit on their hands waiting for the government to do something about them being short paid in any given week. Those persons' laziness/inattention/ambivalen... is not the government's fault. Also, your employer and your super fund should (and probably do) give you all the information you need. It is not the ATO's job to keep track of your super.

r r
October 29, 2022 12.30pm

is this article unfinished? doesn't seem to lead anywhere...

November 8, 2022 8.03am

Unclaimed Super has been around for years, Super funds are now required to send it to the ATO after a number of years if they've had no contact, and the ATO tells people how to check for it. Sounds like they are now being proactive and sending it to another Super fund if you have one? Surely that's the government taking action, what else do you want them to do?

Karren Vergara
November 8, 2022 9.46pm

Hi CB,

Thank you for your comments. Unclaimed versus unpaid super - it can get so confusing! The letter from the ATO stated that my ex-employer directly paid the money to the ATO, which then paid it into my current super fund, AustralianSuper. Unclaimed super on the other hand, typically sees super funds transfer idle monies to the ATO. The customer service rep also said that the super was discovered either by an external audit or internally, but would not confirm.

I think if the ATO could just provide that little bit more information it would save us so much confusion and guesswork!



Milroy Berenger
November 3, 2023 9.10am


How may I get in touch with you? I have a SA story that may be of some interest to you. I loved the read myself. I enjoyed the structure. It flowed well in my mind. Milroy