Effective Use of Reserves

Why is the ATO concerned?      

The ATO recently outlined their concerns in the SMSF Regulator’s Bulletin SMSFRB 2018/1, with respect of the use of reserves by Self-Managed Superannuation Funds.

Why is the ATO concerned?

Essentially, the ATO is concerned that SMSFs will use reserves, such as investment reserves, to artificially suppress a member’s balance to ensure they are under the Transfer Balance Cap or Total Superannuation Balance.

Using a reserve to bring a member’s balance below a Total Superannuation Balance threshold may artificially allow a member to make a non-concessional contribution, or a catch up concessional contribution.



Paul has a superannuation balance of $1.55m. His fund has $60,000 in earnings for the 2017/18 year. If Paul’s fund allocates this amount to Paul, then his balance will be above $1.6m as at 1 July 2018 and he will not be able to make a non-concessional contribution in the 2018/19 financial year.

By allocating to an income reserve, Paul’s total superannuation balance will remain below $1.6 million at 30 June 2018 and he would then become eligible to make a $100,000 non-concessional contribution after 1 July 2018.

Alternatively, Paul may be looking to commence an income stream and by allocating income to a reserve, Paul will be able to ensure his entire balance is within his Transfer Balance Account Limit.  It is these sorts of arrangements that concern the ATO.

‘Legacy’ Reserves

Many funds currently hold reserves because of actuarial calculations from complying pensions held by fund members.

Up until this point for these funds, Trustees have been able to allocate amounts from reserves to eligible members.  This can be done by either allocating an amount equal to 5% or less of all members’ account balances in the fund or be treated as concessional contributions for the recipient member. Note that the 5% allocation method does not carry the standard work test, or upper age limit restrictions, as this is not treated as a contribution.  Furthermore, the 5% allocation can increase a member’s account-based pension balance (this is the only way to increase an existing pension account).

In the Bulletin, the ATO have advised that they are planning to remove the ability for an allocation to be made to an existing account-based pension, under the 5% allocation method.  The result of this will be that it will not only take a much longer period to allocate amounts out of the reserve but in the longer term, if all members have died, the amount in the reserve essentially becomes forfeited money, as it does not belong to any members and therefore cannot be allocated to anyone.  It is forever ‘locked’ in the superannuation environment.


Michael and Rachel have a SMSF.  They both have a lifetime complying pension and an account-based pension in the fund.  Their account balances at 30 June 2017 are as follows:

Michael – complying pension


Rachel – complying pension




Michael – account-based pension


Rachel – account-based pension   


Total Fund Balance


Under the previous rules prior to the announced changes in the Bulletin, Michael and Rachel would have had the ability to allocate $25,000 each from the reserve (and have this treated as a concessional contribution) or allocate $211,500 from the reserve (under the 5% allocation method).

Under the 5% allocation method, the $211,500 would have been allocated as follows:

Michael – complying pension


Rachel – complying pension


Michael – account-based pension


Rachel – account-based pension   


Total Allocation from Reserve  


Under the proposed changes, only $151,500 would be able to be allocated (i.e. the amounts to the account-based pension would not be able to be allocated).  Furthermore, if the complying pensions were commuted, no amounts would be able to be allocated, meaning an amount would remain in the reserve indefinitely. 


Practical Implementation – Tips and Traps:

  • The ATO has confirmed they will not apply compliance resources to reviewarrangements that have taken place before 1 July 2017, where these arrangements are compliant with SIS section 115.
  • Use of a reserve must be for a clear purpose, which is harder to identify in an SMSF.
  • Creating new reserves will likely attract ATO scrutiny.
  • How to effectively deal with ‘legacy’ reserves, or reserves that arise from a legacy styled income stream is vital as amounts allocated from a reserve may give rise to a concessional contribution for the fund’s member/s.
  • Allocations from reserves may impact client’s Transfer Balance Caps and Total Superannuation Balances with clear upper limits and restrictions imposed on these thresholds, it is vital advisers understand the appropriate order of events, and the flow on consequences, before making recommendations to clients.
  • Advisers should be careful to consider the interactions between a client’s age, income, spending and future goals and objectives before making recommendations that commit clients down a certain path.

If considering commuting lifetime pensions, advisers should careful consider any Centrelink implications, as benefits may be lost that cannot be recovered.


Final Deadlines Looming

Reminder 1 July 2018 is fast approaching. This is the final date by which all SMSFs must have lodged Transfer Balance Account Reports for fund members. In addition, the ATO’s nationwide lodgement extension for SMSF 2017 annual returns mean that the last chance to apply CGT Relief is fast approaching.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is general in nature only.  Professional advice should be sought before acting on any aspect of this document.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation other than for the acts or omissions of financial services licensees . TAG Financial Services Pty Ltd (ABN 67 075 374 686).