The corporate watchdog says real estate agents face jail time if they advise struggling tenants to consider dipping into their superannuation to pay rent.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission on Friday sent a letter to the real estate institutes in each state saying it was aware some real estate agents are advising tenants who are unable to pay their rent, or who may find themselves in such a situation in future, to consider applying for early release of their superannuation.

ASIC’s letter comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison last weekend announced a six-month moratorium on residential and commercial evictions as an increasing number of people find themselves without work due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

ASIC warned any property agent found offering such superannuation advice to renters may be in breach of the Corporations Act and face a five-year prison term, a $126,000 fine, and a $1.26 million fine for their business.

“Tenants facing financial difficulty need sound financial guidance and potentially debt counselling,” ASIC said.

“Specifically pointing them to and recommending them to consider the specific possibility of accessing superannuation is, again, likely to amount to a breach of the Act.”

ASIC said financial advice must only be provided by qualified and licensed financial advisers, or financial counsellors, not by real estate agents who neither hold the requisite licence, nor are an authorised representative of an Australian Financial Services Licensee.