The mandate of the Tax Ombud includes “to review and address any complaint by a taxpayer regarding a service matter, or a procedural or administrative matter arising from the application of the provisions of a Tax Act by Sars [the South African Revenue Service] … and review … any systematic and emerging issues related to a service matter or the application of the provisions of this act or procedural or administrative provisions of a tax act”.
With this in mind, the Office of the Tax Ombud (OTO) has launched a digital awareness campaign termed #TaxpayersRightsMatter about its services this filing season, with the overarching objective of protecting the rights of taxpayers.
OTO CEO Professor Thabo Legwaila commented that Covid-19 has restricted the physical engagement with taxpayers, necessitating the OTO to turn to digital media. “We are optimistic that our campaign will reach more people who need to know about our services and how we protect their rights as taxpayers.”
The OTO will be focusing on customer-centricity and making it easier to access its services, and will provide free and impartial assistance to taxpayers who have a tax complaint against Sars.
Ombud can be a disgruntled taxpayer’s first port of call
Moneyweb asked Legwaila to clarify whether taxpayers must first have exhausted all internal remedies provided by Sars before the OTO can be approached, because taxpayers who do not know how to do this have no one to turn to. Legwaila said that these taxpayers can ask the OTO for assistance. The OTO will not turn a taxpayer away.
Legwaila recognises that the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will likely cause Sars to be robust with its collection measures: “We understand the economic challenges faced by individual taxpayers and businesses, and we are here to ensure that tax compliance is not an additional problem or drawback for taxpayers. Taxpayers should continue to be treated fairly and justly, to ease their compliance burden. Tax collection is under pressure, but it should continue to be carried out in an administratively fair manner, with correct and legislated procedures followed, and the service provided in interactions with taxpayers by Sars should not deserve reprehension. We urge and support tax compliance, and the objective of the OTO is to ensure that taxpayers’ rights are not trampled on by the revenue collector.”
Legwaila understands that in financially lean times, and with the government having to collect taxes, taxpayers can feel overwhelmed and be under pressure. Legwaila adds that: “Little attention is placed on the rights of taxpayers, as taxpayers and the revenue collector place these rights on the backburner. But it is precisely at this time that the rights of taxpayers need attention and someone to champion these and ensure they are put in the spotlight.
Rights and compliance
“It is also noted that when taxpayers are not aware of their rights, they feel more compelled to pay their taxes than feeling patriotic – which means that morality drops and non-compliance increases.”
Moneyweb asked Legwaila to comment on the common complaint from taxpayers that, whereas Sars penalises taxpayers who miss a deadline, Sars does not itself adhere to deadlines.
Legwaila replied that this is a systemic issue that was reported on in its systemic issues report published in June, and that Sars should update its systems to ensure that employees meet the deadlines.
Sars has not yet replied to the Tax Ombud’s systemic issues report. Where Sars does not adhere to time frames, taxpayers should be reported to the Tax Ombud.
Any service provided by Sars that is unprofessional, or, where the proper procedures have not been followed by Sars, falls within the OTO mandate.
Legwaila emphasised that taxpayers must be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.
Moneyweb mentioned that many taxpayers are afraid to make a complaint to Sars, for example, where a Sars official treats them with disrespect, or, where the official fails to provide a service, as this will place a target on the taxpayer. Legwaila replied that taxpayers have the right not to be victimised.
“The OTO will do its utmost to protect taxpayers’ rights. Our vision is to strengthen the taxpayer’s trust and confidence in the tax administration system, and our mission is to be an efficient, independent, impartial and fair redress channel for taxpayers.”
Taxpayers can contact the Office of the Tax Ombud on 0800 662 837 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit its website for more information about when and how to lodge a complaint