Hundreds braved cold and rainy conditions in a last-minute scramble to meet the deadline for submitting their tax returns to SARS on Wednesday. The SARS office in Pietermaritzburg became busy as early as 5 am on Wednesday morning, and by 10 am the queue had snaked across the road and up to the second floor of the parking facility belonging to a business across from the taxman’s office.People who missed Wednesday’s deadline are liable to a fine of between R250 and R15 000.Traffic was backed up from the Chatterton circle to the N3 highway and the part of Armitage Road outside SARS was jammed with traffic. The revenue service’s parking lot was packed with cars parking each other in.SARS told The Witness that it had braced for the “predictable” last-minute scramble, and staff were instructed to serve everyone who joined the queue before closing time.The revenue collector said it had seen about 30 000 tax returns a day during tax season, but that shot up to 108 000 on Monday, and 170 000 on Tuesday — the highest in one day since 2014.“This is the story annually on the last day. This year we went on a drive and used SMSes, media campaigns, and adverts to encourage people to submit their tax returns.”SARS added that people hoping for a tax rebate in these tough economic times may have also contributed to the long lines.It said the e-filing system was working at 100% efficiency, and was only ever down for IT maintenance. About 50% of returns were filed online, SARS said.A partner at one accounting and tax consultancy, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the rush by salary earners to hand in their tax returns was likely due to SARS being more proactive this year in getting people to hand in their tax returns.Nearby businesses hurried to cordon off their premises to stop SARS customers from sneakily using their parking lots.When The Witness visited the area on Wednesday morning, a man far back in the queue said he had been waiting for two hours and the line had barely moved. “But I need to get it done today so it’s fine.”Another person closer to the entrance said: “I’ve been here since 7 am.“I left it late this year and only got all my documents together late, so I have to deal with this.”Car guards at nearby businesses appeared to be checking out the people using the parking lots, to ensure they were not going to walk off to SARS. It appeared to be business as usual for most businesses.Popular local eatery The Lakeside Cafe was affected by the chaos in the area.“We are usually busy in the morning, but for the past two days it’s been busy outside. You should see how it is at 6 am. But it’s just for one day,” the establishment’s Graeme Pratt said.* Additional reporting by Edward West.