The Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority will consider allowing people to withdraw money from their pension accounts before retirement. 'We hear that people should be allowed to withdraw their contributions ... for example, when they are unemployed, need to pay for their children's studies or because of serious illnesses, accidents or buying a flat,' its chairwoman, Anna Wu Hung-yuk, said. The authority would consider this and other issues next year when it reviews the schemes' first 10 years of operation. Members may only claim their pension when they reach the age of 65 unless they are permanently leaving Hong Kong, lose the capacity to work or retire at 60. If an account holds less than HK$5,000, a member makes no contribution to it for a year and declares they are no longer seeking work, they may also claim the money. If a member dies before reaching retirement age, their heirs are entitled to the pension. Ms Wu said the authority would consider the circumstances under which a member might take some of their pension early, how much they could withdraw and whether they could take it as a loan. The authority had begun studying the issues, she said. If there was support for changing the rules, it would take three to five years to revise them. Some countries, such as the United States, allow people to use their pension for a down payment on their first home purchase. In Singapore, people can withdraw money from their mandatory pension accounts to pay for their children's education. MPF schemes earned an average return on investment last month of 6.44 per cent - the most since the schemes' launch in 2000 - data from market analyst Lipper shows. Ms Wu said the authority acted as a gatekeeper, but sometimes it had to 'open the gate'. She said next year's full review of MPF schemes and consultation on their future would also look at the minimum and maximum levels of monthly income on which contributions are payable - HK$5,000 and HK$20,000 respectively - which determine how much employees and employers have to pay. Everyone over 18 who lives and works in Hong Kong must pay into an MPF scheme unless they were allowed to continue paying into an exempted employer-funded scheme when the MPF was launched. Salaried employees and their employers must each pay in 5 per cent of their salary each month, subject to a ceiling of HK$1,000 a month. Ms Wu said the authority would continue to urge MPF scheme providers to reduce their charges. 'We need to work to help lower the charges,' she said. 'Our policy is to increase the competitiveness and the efficiency of the schemes.' She said the authority was also actively monitoring employers to see whether any were withholding contributions to staff MPF accounts amid the global economic downturn.