SARS, Tax Ombud agree to work together to resolve taxpayer complaints

The South African Revenue Service and the Tax Ombudsman on Friday signed what the tax agency termed a "historic" memorandum of understanding, aiming for the two institutions to improve their working relationship.

In the past, tax ombudsman Judge Bernard Ngoepe had been an outspoken critic regarding instances where the revenue service treated taxpayers unfairly. 

In 2017 the Tax Ombud also launched an investigation into SARS to get to the bottom of delays in tax refunds. The ombud found that the delays in payments were system related, Fin24 previously reported.

At the release of the ombud's 2017/18 annual report in October 2018, Ngoepe had noted that tax complaints had risen exponentially since the ombud's office was first established in 2013.

SARS, under the leadership of Mark Kingon, in turn launched a service charter last year to improve the service delivered to taxpayers.

According to a statement from the revenue service, the memorandum of understanding will allow for the institutions to engage with each other on "matters of interest", without conflicting their respective mandates.

"The areas of agreement emphasise collaborating in a professional manner to uphold the independence and autonomy of each institution," the SARS statement read.

Breakthrough

SARS described the MOU as a breakthrough in the relationship between the institutions, which will now commit to engaging with each other and provide mutual support and co-operation.

Ngoepe said the MOU was a step in the right direction and that he was "confident" it would benefit taxpayers. Ngoepe is hopeful that the agreement will help end delays in finalising taxpayer complaints.

"We remain an independent institution and will continue to execute our mandate fairly and impartially," Ngoepe said of the role of his office.

"We are committed to maintaining a balance between SARS’s powers and duties, on the one hand, and taxpayers’ rights and obligations, on the other," he assured.

If specific issues cannot be addressed within the agreement, separate service level agreements can be negotiated, according to SARS. There is also an option to approach the finance minister to make the final decision on matters where an agreement cannot be reached.

SARS has said that the tax ombud is empowered to review a complaint from a taxpayer, only once all the available resolution mechanisms at SARS have been exhausted.

SARS is of the view that the "independent and objective" review of complaints can improve taxpayer education and in turn, the revenue service's understanding of taxpayers’ issues.

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