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The loss of skilled staff diminishes Sars’ brand

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

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.

Read more from Barbara Curson:

Business confidence set on a downward trajectory

Falsehood, gossip, libel, rumour, slander

Is there a hole in the bucket?

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This article fully relates to my most recent experience on SARS e-filing. Thanks for the hints on how to change the settings on Google. After receiving the generic “request for relevant material” letter, I submitted all possible supporting docs and to my surprise was awarded with an amended assessment within a few days, only to discover the carry over balance of a past RAF contribution was erroneously reduced with a huge amount in the latest assessment. As for now, the battle goes on…

This article fully relates to my most recent experience on SARS e-filing. Thanks for the hints on how to change the settings on Google. After receiving the generic “request for relevant material” letter, I submitted all possible supporting docs and to my surprise was awarded with an amended assessment within a few days, only to discover the carry over balance of a past RAF contribution was erroneously reduced with a huge amount in the latest assessment. The battle goes on.

Thx for most useful article. SARS brand has been corrupted by ANC. Sole purpose is to make life as difficult as possible for legitimate taxpayers by grossly abusing eFiling-system.

The next step from the morons and thieves at SARS will be to issue you with a demand for a boatload of money that they have assessed you owe. You will need to pay before the dispute will be looked at. Of course it will be a “mistake” but not before you have had to sell your car or house to pay the disputed amount. You will pay accountant costs yourself. SARS will drag it out for months.
By accident or design, you decide.

This government has proven that it will act like a thug whenever it is in a position to do so. It does not matter if it is unlawful, if they are in a position to steal from you they will. The day is drawing closer that SARS will raid our bank accounts, empty the overdraft to the limit, and throw us to the ombud to fight it out. They have done worse.

We will soon be reading articles on Moneyweb on “How to secure your monthly cash-flow from being raided by SARS”. SARS will drive us back to the pre-banking era, and force us to use the barter system. We will transact in cash and bitcoin and larger denominations will be in diamonds and rhino horn.

I find dealing with SARS an absolute nightmare – as a pensioner for the last 3 years I have had an annotation on my tax return that I am up for verification – and all documents called for are have already been forwarded to them.
When you visit their offices in Randburg they stick you in queue with a whole bunch of other people and then call your number to a designated counter. The last time I visited SARS I arrived at 11:21 and left the same day at 13:45(18/9/2017). The manning of their workstations is deplorable, at lunch time when most office workers can get to SARS they all seem to take their lunch hours – 12:39 1 of 5 positions manned; 13:10 4 of 10 positions manned – since I had all these time on my hands I was able to record manned workstations and unmanned workstations – there was no evidence of even a senior person walking around to manage the queues let alone observe the putrid serve they were offering
So in my estimation SARS are absolutely useless and display all the hallmarks of a poorly run Home Affairs department

Do not waste your time sending verification docs digitally or by visiting SARS. Make copies and send to them by Registered mail. Have done so for the past 3 years. Far more effecctive

Ms Curson is too polite

It is not the loss of capable staff that is turning SARS into a SANRAL [think eTolls], it is that it has been engulfed by Corruptheid.

The Tax Ombudsman’s report into VAT Refunds revealed a systemic effort by SARS to withhold refunds that are due to taxpayers. Withholding ANY property from its rightful owner, including cash or refunds is, in a word of one syllable, theft. There is no other explanation.

Amongst SARS;s lies is that it needs to verify bank accounts before making refunds; but it has a fortune of checks and balances and if they were happy to deduct money from a vendor’s account in one VAT period (no verification by SARS for this) they should be happy to pay a refund into it the next period.

If one makes a mistake in a VAT return, their website allows you to fix it – if you have under-declared; if you have over-declared, wait until the next period.

As for insisting that taxpayers use proprietary software from certain suppliers, mainly Microsoft and Adobe, whose products are known to be buggy and insecure and who engage in dodgy ethics (Bill Gates famously sold IBM an operating system that was not yet written); the wisdom and constitutionality of this are questionable.

The bottom line is that all these tussles with SARS (and having to log in again because their over-cautious inexperience designers have a paranoid timeout period) take time that could be better spent creating wealth (and paying more taxes). This contributes to the low standing of “ease doing of doing business in SA”, recently our auditing/finance reputation tumbled from N0 1 to 30 (before the KMPG/SARS scam and #Guptaleaks), many companies and individuals are now preferring to locate elsewhere.

Apart from the Ombudsman’s report, which has received very little attention in the media (thanks to #Guptaleaks) SARS’ reputation was junked by its selective “ANConnected so Protected” practice (for instance Malema was only investigated once he was expelled from the ZANC); its infighting, “funnies” around the tobacco industry, lack of investigation into ZANC heavyweights and tendrepreneurs and, of course, its participation in, and paying for, the KMPG Rogue Report.

What makes this so sad, apart from the damage and enjunking of our economy, is that the average employee of SARS does try to do a good job, most of the corruption is at the senior, political level

Yup. I also have a demand for 3 months bank statements as ‘proof of retirement annuity contributions’ so presumably the certificate from the insurer isn’t good enough. Copies of documentation for medical expenses, even though the amounts were far too small to result in any rebate.

And of course the efiling return is designed to prevent deductions. The ‘other deductions’ box is greyed out so you can’t use it. Foreign tax credits can only be entered against certain types of income. Etc.

Maybe it’s now time to stop paying all tax until Sars becomes honest and is taken out of the hands of crooks.

End of comments.



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