SARS kicks off tax season with charter outlining taxpayers' rights

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is taking steps to improve the service delivered to taxpayers with the release of the Service Charter which outlines taxpayers’ rights and responsibilities as well as service standards they can expect from the agency.

Acting SARS commissioner Mark Kingon told media at a briefing at the SARS contact centre in Alberton on Monday, that the Service Charter sets out what the public can expect from SARS. The last one had been published in 2007.

He urged South Africans to become familiar with the document. It sets out obligations of taxpayers, such as to make sure their declarations are correct and that they file returns timeously and honestly and not claim fictitious deductions. In turn SARS promises the South African public that the agency will be professional, courteous and treat taxpayers with "utmost respect", said Kingon.

Kingon added that improving service and reducing long queues is a key priority. “We can’t do it overnight,” he said. But the agency is making an effort to deliver good service to the public and to be a top notch organisation of State. “We want to do what is right,” said Kingon. 

“We take stock of how we can be more efficient.” Kingon explained that after each tax season, SARS plans to take on board lessons learnt and points raised by taxpayers to refine initiatives.

Chief officer of governance, international relations, strategy and communications Hlengani Mathebula who also spoke at the briefing said that the Service Charter would "resolve a number of expectations" and clarify the kinds of things taxpayers must hold SARS accountable for. 

Push for e-filing

During his address, Kingon urged taxpayers to consider e-filing over going into physical branches. He has not filed his return yet, but said that he would be using e-filing and that the agency has done what it can to make filing simple.

“We have been assessing what we can do better and improve taxpayer experience,” said Kingon. “Filing a return can be an easy exercise, you need not stand in a queue or make special trips to branches to file.” People can also make use of the contact centre if they need an agent to help them with e-filing.

Kingon added that tax practitioners have also been asked to use e-filing. Last year 120 000 returns by tax practitioners were physically filed at branches.

Kingon also noted that some people filed last year even though they were not required to.

If you have a salary of less than R350 000 per year from a single source of income and have no allowances like travel, then you are not required to file. But these people often file if they believe they have refunds owed to them, Kingon explained.

“We are not stopping people with retirement annuities from filing or who have excessive medical costs from filing as it will result in a [tax] credit,” he said. But last year 1.6 million taxpayers filed and it resulted in no refunds for them. “I will not say it was a waste of time, but they could have spent their time better if they had not filed,” said Kingon.

Improvements at SARS

Kingon said that several improvements were being implemented by the agency, based on recommendations from the tax ombud’s report released in September 2017.

The ombud had found that a delayed payment of refunds to taxpayers resulted from system issues at SARS.

Apart from reducing queues at branches, SARS is prioritising the current year’s assessments. This means the return of a taxpayer for the current year will be prioritised over the return of a taxpayer from three years ago, explained Kingon. “We must give priority to the compliant taxpayer.”

Refunds will only be released if the taxpayer is not facing audits from previous years. VAT refunds will be released despite having audits on previous periods, said Kingon.

SARS will also be more specific about the documents required from taxpayers who are being audited, instead of requiring more documents than necessary.

Efforts are also being made to prepopulate additional fields such as retirement annuities and medical fields on return forms. “We would love to prepopulate a return in its entirety, we would love to get there at some point,” said Kingon.

Penalties and prosecutions

Kingon said that SARS would get tough on taxpayers filing late submissions and ultimately initiate processes to prosecute offenders. “We get taxpayers with outstanding returns for 37 months, who are prepared to pay the penalty and not submit a tax return. One wonders what people are hiding,” he said.

Compliance is for the good of the country, he added.

Kingon also re-emphasised plans to reorganise teams tackling illicit flows on specific sectors like tobacco, fuel and alcohol, among other things.

Return tally

In the last 24 hours close to 54 000 returns had been received.

A test phase of the tax filing opened slightly earlier than the official opening of the season on July 1, and during the testing phase 140 000 returns were received through e-filing, Kingon explained. The tax filing season will conclude on October 31 for provisional taxpayers (those who earn an income other than a salary such as rental income) who opt to file at physical branches and non-provisional taxpayers (all other taxpayers).

Provisional taxpayers using e-filing have until January 31, 2019 to file their returns. SARS has to collect R1.345 trn.

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