On 27 August 2010, the Federal Court in Sadleir v Motor Trades Association of Australia Superannuation Fund Pty Ltd5 emphasised the importance for both trustees and the SCT of giving reasons for the apportionment of death benefit claims.

Upon the death of the member, the trustee of the Motor Trades Association of Australia Superannuation Fund (Trustee) had resolved to distribute the $143,000 benefit to the deceased’s de facto (80%) and the deceased’s mother (Mrs Sadleir) (20%), the latter who had been nominated by the deceased as a preferred beneficiary. The Trustee acknowledged that Mrs Sadleir was partially financially dependent on the deceased, but rejected the claim that there was a relationship of financial dependency between the deceased and his brother (Michael Sadleir). Notably, the Trustee gave no reasons as to why it apportioned the benefit between the de facto and Mrs Sadleir as it did.

Mrs Sadleir and Michael Sadleir then applied to the SCT for review of the Trustee’s decision on the basis that the apportionment was unfair and unreasonable. Considering the evidence presented by the parties, the SCT affirmed the Trustee’s decision on the basis that it was fair and reasonable in its circumstances. Contrary to section 40 of the Superannuation (Resolution of Complaints) Act 1993 (Cth) (Act), the SCT also did not give reasons for the apportionment.

In seeking review of the SCT’s decision in the Federal Court, Mrs Sadleir claimed the SCT had erred in law by paying the benefit to the apparent de facto spouse, when no de facto relationship existed and failing to pay the death benefit as per the deceased’s beneficiary nomination. The critical factor in this case was that the application for review was brought under section 46 of the Act, meaning that the applicant was restricted to an appeal on a question of law.

In reviewing the decision of the SCT, Justice Lander held that the unrepresented Mrs Sadleir had failed to articulate a question of law in the notice of appeal. However, Justice Lander noted that the Tribunal had not given adequate reasons for the 80/20 apportionment pursuant to its statutory obligation and on this basis, Mrs Sadleir could apply to the court for leave to amend her grounds of appeal.

At this stage, it is not yet known whether Mrs Sadleir has sought leave from the Federal Court to amend her grounds of appeal.