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The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has been taking various steps to make EPF accounts more user friendly. The latest step in that direction is doing away with the need for employers’ approval at the time of EPF withdrawal. The process so far required you to route your withdrawal request through the employer as employer attestation was needed. This often led to unwanted delays.

This is set to change. According to EPFO, if details such as Aadhaar and bank account number are linked to your Universal Account Number (UAN) and know-your-customer (KYC) verification is done by the employer, then an employee can directly approach EPFO for withdrawal using UAN (this is a unified EPF account under which you can park all your EPF money even when you change jobs, thereby ensuring portability of EPF money from one organisation to another).

“EPFO has launched simplified and brief forms for withdrawal. These are one-page forms requiring only 5-6 types of information to be submitted," stated the 3 December EPFO press release announcing this initiative. An official, on condition of anonymity, said the organisation will be taking steps to popularise withdrawal of EPF money online. “The main motive is to identify the employee directly rather than through the employer," the official said.

The government had launched UAN last year and all active EPF subscribers have been allotted this number. The employer verifies the KYC details through a digital signature, but for withdrawal, you need to seed this number with Aadhaar and bank account number.

Check if you have a UAN on EPFO’s website (http://goo.gl/TlwQTV). Type in your EPF number and a message will appear if you have been allotted a number. For the number itself, approach your employer, who will take down your KYC details, feed those into your UAN, and verify it through a digital signature. You need to fill in details of your bank account number along with Indian Financial System Code (IFSC), and Aadhaar.

So, if you have an active UAN seeded with all the mandatory details, here is how you can go about making a claim.

The older process

To start with, you need to know that EPF doesn’t allow you to withdraw money before a cooling period of two months. So every time you change jobs, you need to transfer that money. With UAN, doing this has become easier. The PF office allows full withdrawal for medical reasons, on voluntary retirement, and a few other situations.

Your PF account has two components: EPF and Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS). The employer’s contribution go into both. To withdraw the pension money, you need to fill up forms 19 and 10C. If you do not want to withdraw the pension money, you can get a scheme certificate using the same forms. Doing so will continue your pension account even if you encash EPF. You can submit the scheme certificate with the next organisation that you join and carry forward your pension account.

If you want a loan or want to make a partial withdrawal, use form 31.

The employer sends these forms to EPFO, which then processes the request. Depending on the type of request, it takes 10-15 days from EPFO receiving the forms for the money to get credited to your bank account.

The new process

After launch of UAN, EPFO has started collecting the KYC details attested by the employer. According to the press release, the process of withdrawal for such employees has been made simpler as the employee no longer needs the employer to verify the form(s). She can provide her mobile phone number, UAN, a cancelled cheque of her bank account and address as basic details and submit these with just her signature.

“Based on the KYC submitted by (the) employer, the money will be sent to his/her bank account provided by the employer while seeding attested KYCs," the press release stated.

The shorter forms (they used to be 2-4 pages long) are available on EPFO’s website (www.epfindia.com). Go to “Miscellaneous", “Downloads", “Claims forms", and select the new forms with the word “UAN" before their names. You will find form 10C under Employees’ Pension Scheme, and forms 19 and 31 under Employees’ Provident Funds Scheme.

Keep your UAN and mobile phone number handy. Other details needed include postal address, date of joining and leaving the employer, employer’s address, and so on. In form 31, you also have to attach a cancelled cheque.

All the information you submit in these forms should match with what is in the UAN database. If details don’t match, you will have to repeat the process.

Submit the forms with the regional PF manager under whom the employer maintains or maintained the account. If you have the account number, it’s easy to identify the regional fund manager. Log on to the EPFO website and run an establishment search.

The EPFO official mentioned above said the number of days to process a claim varies across regional offices. “But on an average, it is 7-10 days," he said. Currently, it takes about a month depending on when the employer sends the documents to the EPFO office.

Mint Money take

The option to withdraw one’s EPF money without employer’s consent is an important change, especially in cases where you can’t get in touch with your previous employer. Earlier, you had to fill up form 19 and get it attested from the earlier employer. And if that organisation had shut shop, you had to get the form attested from a branch manager of your bank.

“This (the new process) speeds up the process of claiming EPF money. It will bring down the instances of misuse by employers. There have been instances where organisations misused their approval powers as a tool to harass employees. But with the employer’s attestation no longer needed, employees may withdraw rather than transfer as it’s easier to do," said Anil Rego, chief executive officer, Right Horizons, an investment advisory.

Mint Money recommends that you always transfer money from your previous EPF account to the new one when you change jobs. After all, it is a means to build a retirement corpus, and disruptions will affect the final returns. Moreover, transferring is easier now. Just give your UAN to the new employer, which will start contributing to the account. If you have older account(s), use the Online Transfer Claim Portal (OTCP) to transfer the money.

EPF is for keeps; it helps you build a sizeable nest egg. Tax benefits and employer’s contribution are added advantages. So, even if the withdrawal process has become simpler, don’t withdraw unless absolutely needed.

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