Kaupapahere pūnaha moniwhiwhi ahungarua Retirement income system policy

Kaupapahere me te rangahau | Policy and Research

What is the Retirement Income System?


The Retirement Commissioner is required by law to develop and promote methods of improving the effectiveness of retirement income policies in New Zealand to monitor their effects.

The Retirement Income System comprises of NZ Superannuation (‘Super’), KiwiSaver, and private savings. These may be held as cash, shares, property, or other iwi models of financial planning and savings.

A snapshot of Aotearoa New Zealand’s retirement income history


Aotearoa New Zealand has had a pension system in place since the late 19th century aimed at preventing poverty amongst older people. Through the Social Security Act 1938 a two-tier public pension system was introduced that would last for nearly four decades. It featured a means-tested pension (Age Benefit) and a smaller universal superannuation payment.

Over the years, successive governments made various adjustments to the retirement pension schemes, including shifts in the ages of eligibility, increasing and then decreasing contributions, tax concessions, and changes to the percentages of wage ratios applied against pensions. Changes were made in the 1970s that created the New Zealand Superannuation [NZ Super] that we have today.

The beginning of the 21st century saw the establishment of the NZ Super Fund and KiwiSaver which have become the most significant innovations in retirement income initiatives in our recent history.

A more detailed account of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand’s retirement income, spanning 1898 to 2008, can be found in this earlier research paper commissioned by the Retirement Commission. A simple description of NZ Super as it stands today can be found. This paper covers how NZ Super operates including eligibility criteria, payments and how they are financed, and details the policy framework and settings.

Purpose Statement


On 21 October 2020 the Retirement Commissioner released a statement defining the purpose of New Zealand’s retirement income system.

The purpose statement was produced with assistance from the Retirement Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group [EAG]. The EAG was formed by the Commissioner to help her test and debate issues. It consists of iwi leadership, academics, and policy specialists with expertise in a range of areas.

The purpose statement will be used by Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission to test retirement income policy proposals and could be useful to other government and non-government entities.

“A stable retirement income framework enables trust and confidence that older New Zealand residents can live with dignity and mana, participate in and contribute to society, and enjoy a high level of belonging and connection to their whānau, community and country.

To help current and future retirees to achieve this, a sustainable retirement income framework’s purpose is twofold:

  1. To provide NZ Superannuation to ensure an adequate standard of living for New Zealanders of eligible age. NZ Super is the Government’s primary contribution to financial security for the remainder of a person’s life.
  2. To actively support New Zealanders to build and manage independent savings that contribute to their ability to maintain their own relative standard of living.

The retirement income system sits within the broader government provision of infrastructure also needed to enable older New Zealanders to live well, such as health care, housing, and transport.”

Older Persons Forum


In early September 2021 we held an Older Persons Forum as a two-part online event after a COVID-19 lockdown prevented meeting in person as planned for August. 

The webinars, presentation slides, and notes from break-out discussions are available.