VAT charges — consumer discovers calculation error on till slip, but complaint falls on deaf ears

2014-09-02 00:00

AS diligent consumers we may check the items listed on our till slips, our change and at best keep the slip for future reference just in case we need to return defective goods.

But how many of us take the time to check the calculations on the till slip?

Durban consumer Sheetal Cross checked the calculations on her till slip soon after shopping at Edgars Gateway last August and to her surprise, she noticed that the VAT charge did not tally.

Perhaps even more disappointing than discovering the error was the way in which Edcon, and subsequently SARS, handled her complaint, which seemed to fall on deaf ears, all round.

Cross’s purchase totalled R1 283,21 on the till slip and the total after 14% VAT was reflected as R1 771,25.

“The recommended VAT amount at 14% for this amount should have been R179,64, instead, we were charged a VAT amount of R488,04,” Cross said.

Cross contacted Edgars’ call centre to complain.

“I had called the number three times and each time the call was disconnected,” Cross said.

Eventually, she spoke to a call centre agent, “Tiitso”, who gave her a reference number.

“I recall being advised that someone from Edgars’ customer service would contact me within two days, but of course this never happened, even to date,” Cross complained to me.

Cross said she then filed a complaint with SARS in October and received a reference number.

“I relayed my experience and details to the call centre agent, who agreed that the amount charged by Edgars for VAT on the transaction, was wrong. She advised that I would be contacted by their [SARS] fraud department, to which I must provide a copy of a signed affidavit,” Cross said.

Cross prepared the affidavit but neither Edgars nor SARS kept their promises.

“There has still been no resolution of this matter and no refund. I fear that it is most likely that many more customers were overcharged on that day and possibly not refunded,” Cross said.

“It is above all, socially irresponsible of Edgars to have lacked in customer care when I referred to their customer service line, lacked in refunding the difference, lacked in posting an apology to the public.”

Cross said the next time she visited the store the VAT error had been corrected.

“Clearly, Edgars’ management became aware of the matter and dealt with it discretely,” Cross said.

When I raised the issue with Edcon, Edgars’ holding company, a spokesperson put the VAT confusion down to a “till slip printing error”.

“Mrs Cross’s total merchandise value was R1 771,25, but this should have reflected as R1 553,73, excluding VAT. The 14% VAT applicable would have amounted to R217,52; therefore, the total balance equated to R1 771,25,” he said.

Essentially, what he was saying was that the tally of the items (including VAT) on the slip was correct at R1 771,25 and that the pre-VAT figure of R1 283,21 was incorrect and should have read R1 553,73.

“This was due to a till slip printing error and the slips at that point-of-sale incorrectly reflected the VAT amount … the total charges levied to Mrs Cross were indeed correct.”

He said Edcon’s finance department had confirmed that no underpayments of VAT to SARS had occurred and the error had been corrected.

“Edcon is discussing the matter with Mrs Cross as this is less than acceptable service and we would like to assure her that a re-occurrence of a similar nature will not happen again.”

However, Cross was not impressed.

“I could, however, argue then that the correct net figure before VAT should have been R1 283,21 and they, therefore, have overcharged me by the additional VAT amount.

“They have provided no hard evidence to prove otherwise. There is no guarantee that one of the individual items on the slip isn’t made up of an inflated VAT amount,” Cross said.

Cross said she had further asked Edgars’ financial services customer service manager, Anesia Naidoo, to provide her with evidence from its records reflecting the accurate pre-VAT figures but it had responded with a statement reflecting VAT inclusive prices.

“Naidoo was unable to provide further details, stating that Edgars ‘unfortunately do not have a detailed report that lists all merchandise purchased’,” Schneider said.

SARS spokesperson Adrian Lackay confirmed that it had received the complaint in November.

“The matter has been referred for review within SARS.

“It is being dealt with as a suspicious activity report and a preliminary assessment is being conducted to establish the merits of the complaint and whether further investigation is required,” Lackay said.

However, he said that in terms of the Tax Administration Act, SARS had to observe taxpayer confidentiality.

“SARS is not able to provide further information on the matter for the public domain, at this stage,” Lackay said.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za

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