Sars’ brand diminished by unskilled staff

For every step in the right direction, Sars manages to tumble down two.

The Tax Ombud is slowly gaining ground in assisting taxpayers in resolving their tax differences with Sars. Unfortunately, these “tax differences” are frequently of Sars’ making, and as Sars slips further behind in the revenue target, so can we expect an exponential increase in these “tax differences”.

eFiling has also started to show its cracks, and it does not support Google Chrome. Annoyingly, if you are unaware of this and try to open a document on eFiling, you will receive a misleading instruction to download the latest version of Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader.

Thankfully,, being a couple of steps ahead of Sars, has addressed this issue in their web document “What to do when Sars eFiling will not work with Chrome”, explaining how to make the necessary system changes to Google Chrome.

Be prepared, any taxpayer due for a refund will be selected for “verification”. Unable to design an intelligent risk system that can detect valid areas of risk, tax refunds land in the cross hairs. The real tax dodgers are safe.

According to the Tax Ombud, one of the more serious taxpayer complaints is that of delayed refunds.
Apart from the desperate attempt by Sars to hold onto money that is not theirs, could another reason for the high number of problems be the loss of skilled staff? If not, why does Sars issue one-size-fits-all query letters when a taxpayer is due a refund? And, why is the taxpayer required to submit irrelevant and unnecessary documentation for verification?

Sars attempts to avoid the provisions of the Tax Administration Act by referring to this process as “verification”, and not an “audit”. This means that in the “verification of income tax return letter” no reasons have to be given. The documents to be submitted for verification include an original IRP5 issued by the employer, even though it accords with the information automatically loaded onto the eFiling account.

Smarting from the Tax Ombud’s finding, Sars makes a lame attempt to protect itself from accusations of unnecessarily delaying refunds, advising that: “any refund due may be withheld, pending finalisation of this process”. I am not convinced that “pending finalisation of this process” is an acceptable excuse. If Sars restricted the verification process to the relevant documentation only, such as the retirement annuity certificate, the whole process would be completed in a day.

The eFiling notice further directs that an original copy of the said eFiling notice must be submitted with all the other documents, and that a copy is not permitted. Please Sars, explain how one can produce an original tangible document (which is not a copy) of a computer generated virtual document which is not physically existing as such, but made by software to appear to exist?

This one-size-fits-all notice further requests documents for verification of expenses not claimed, for example, a travelling expense. Now, if this document is not submitted, you have technically not complied with the request. Result – delay in refund. On the other hand, if you submit a document titled “Travelling expenses claimed – Nil”, this may lead to a further query. Result – delay in refund.

Further problems may be encountered when loading documents. All documents can be scanned into one file, but this may not exceed 2MB. The scanned documents must first be uploaded and then submitted. The submit box is not close to the upload box, and many taxpayers omit this step. Result – delay in refund. Check that the status of “Documents for review” states “submitted”. It is advisable to take a screenshot – press “ctrl and p” for proof.

A total of 20 files (each less than 2MB) may be uploaded, but must all be submitted at the same time. Unfortunately, if this is unsuccessful, a trip will have to be made to the nearest Sars branch, documents in hand. Result – delay in refund.

If banking details have been changed, the new bank account details must be verified at the nearest Sars branch by the taxpayer in person. Result – delay in refund. Sars keeps on changing its methods of verifying a bank account. The latest necessary documents include a recent complete bank account statement, together with proof of address, and a valid identification documentation. But, this may change according to the whims of whatever official verifies the documents. Sars has relented on the necessity for a bank stamp on every page of the bank statement. However, can Sars explain why all the pages of a bank statement are necessary to verify a bank account?

The Sars website advises that “A statement drawn at an ATM/Internet will be accepted as long as it contains the same information, as if the statement was drawn at the bank”. What information is Sars referring to, other than the bank account number?

When a tax return will result in a refund, the taxpayer will receive an SMS that there is a letter on the eFiling account. But when the taxpayer submits documentation for verification, no communication is sent in regard to how long the audit will take. The taxpayer is now completely at the mercy of unnamed, possibly very inexperienced, auditors, who in my experience, are suspicious that there is a refund due, even if the reason is as benign as a payment into a retirement annuity fund.

The Tax Ombud must be commended for doing a sterling job in navigating the tricky terrain between gaining the confidence of taxpayers and at the same time successfully persuading Sars that some of their actions are not befitting that of a fair and equitable tax system.

Unfortunately, for every step in the right direction, Sars manages to tumble down two. No longer spurred on by the motto of the higher purpose, the respect and goodwill built up over the years is fast disappearing. The poor, needy and desperate will be left with nothing but silt.

By: The Citizen

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