Taxman can now search premises without a warrant

2012-07-05 11:00

Legislation allowing the South African Revenue Service (Sars) to search business premises without a warrant is expected to come into operation within the next three months.

The Tax Administration Bill was promulgated into law yesterday in the Government Gazette, the receiver said in a statement today.

The act would come into operation on a date to be determined by President Jacob Zuma by proclamation in the gazette.

“Sars’s preparations for the implementation of the act are at an advanced stage and it is anticipated that it will come into operation within the next three months,” it said.

The act was intended to simplify and provide greater coherence in South African tax administration law.

It eliminated duplication, removed redundant requirements and aligned existing disparate requirements in different tax acts ranging in age from four to 63 years old.

It created a single, modern framework for the common administrative provisions of the tax acts.

“Most taxpayers are compliant, and the act should ensure better service and a lower compliance cost for them,” Sars said. “Sars is, however, duty-bound to actively pursue tax evaders in order to maintain compliant taxpayers’ confidence in the integrity of the tax system.”

Key features of the act include:

» A move to a single registration process and number across taxes to reduce red-tape and streamline the system, and self-assessment of taxes so taxpayers need not wait for a Sars assessment;

» Greater access to third party data to underpin Sars initiatives, such as the pre-population of individual tax returns;

» Clearer rules on Sars access to information, so tax liabilities can be determined more quickly and accurately;

» The ability to search business premises without a warrant in narrowly-defined situations, where the general requirement for a warrant will defeat the object of the search. This is so that Sars can act when tax is at serious risk and time is of the essence;

» Clear requirements and timelines for issuing tax clearance certificates to provide greater certainty and responsiveness to business;

» Feedback on audit progress and findings to engage more fully with taxpayers and ensure they understand the reasons for any adjustments;

» Specific timeframes for decisions of the Tax Board (a small claims court for tax) and wider reporting of Tax Court decisions to improve access to justice; and

» The appointment of a Tax Ombud, informed by international experience, to provide taxpayers with a low-cost mechanism to address administrative issues that cannot be resolved through Sars’s normal channels.

Although the act provided for a year from its commencement for the appointment of the Tax Ombud, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in this year’s budget speech that the ombud would be appointed this year.

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