Taxpayers will get a fair hearing?

2014-04-13 15:00

The inception of a Tax Ombud means disputes won’t have to go through Sars

Taxpayers generally have the odds stacked against them when it comes to disputes with the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

Because of wide-ranging powers given to it under the Tax Administration Act, Sars is able to request information about taxpayers from third parties, search and seize relevant items from your home or office, and even demand that a third party such as a bank or employer pay your outstanding taxes.

If a taxpayer was at loggerheads with Sars, the only recourse was to take the matter to court, which would mean incurring legal fees.

It is hoped that with the recent launch of the SA Tax Ombud, taxpayers will finally have an independent body that can provide recourse should a taxpayer feel they have been unfairly treated.

On Monday, the SA Tax Office was officially launched, with retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe acting as the Tax Ombud.

The ideals of the Tax Ombud’s office are indeed noble – it intends to be a simple and affordable resolution channel for taxpayers who have legitimate complaints against Sars.

The Tax Ombud’s office will be able to review a complaint and, if necessary, resolve it through mediation or conciliation with specific Sars officials who have been identified to engage with the ombud’s office.

These complaints may be in relation to administrative issues, poor service or the failure by Sars to observe a taxpayer’s rights.

But the Tax Ombud will not deal with any legislative or tax policy issues.

You could not, for example, go to the ombud to complain about the rate of VAT or to dispute the extended powers of Sars under the Tax Administration Act.

The ombud will also not be able to rule on any tax issue that is already before the courts.

To deal with the possibility of the ombud getting inundated with complaints, the Treasury has made it clear the ombud may only review a complaint after a taxpayer has exhausted Sars’ internal complaints resolution mechanisms.

According to the Treasury, “direct access to the Tax Ombud will only be allowed if there are compelling circumstances for doing so”.

The role of the Ombud is not only to resolve complaints but also to provide information that is easily accessible and understandable.

Ngoepe says one of the key challenges of the Tax Ombud will be to ensure “the office treats the taxpayer public with utmost dignity and respect, and provides an open, accountable and timely service. It also renders well-reasoned decisions in respect of actions taken by it.”

While the intention of the ombud is noble, we wait to see how it works in practice.

Public ombud offices are often understaffed in comparison with the number of complaints, something that is already noticeable in the National Consumer Commission’s underperformance.

The Tax Ombud’s office draws on comparable institutions in Canada and the UK, and operates independently of Sars.

The public has been assured that it “also treats with strict confidence the communication between it and the taxpayer”.

Tax Ombud contact details

Phone: 0800?662?837

Fax: 012?452?5013


Word of mouth

Pravin weighs in

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the millions of taxpayers in our country who have provided the state with the means to fund its programmes which, in a virtuous cycle, will stimulate growth, job creation and generate higher future revenue. We owe them our deep gratitude and a commitment to spend this money wisely, honestly and efficiently. But also we owe to these taxpayers a tax system that treats them fairly.”

– Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan

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