Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
4 minute read
2 Jul 2021
1:44 pm

Sars filing steams ahead despite Covid-19 pandemic

Ina Opperman

The new tax season started on 1 July and taxpayers will be able to file their tax returns virtually even if they have never done so before.

Sars closed all its offices on 1 July for six weeks, but assures that every taxpayer will be able to file. Picture: iStock

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) says it is steaming ahead despite the pandemic, with many innovations that will make it easier for taxpayers to submit their tax returns from home.

The tax man’s offices all over the country were closed last week and will remain closed for six weeks. However it says even people without smart phones will be helped virtually.

“We are launching a completely virtual tax filing season today,” Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter said at the launch of the tax filing season for individuals and trusts on Thursday.

“The shift towards a virtual tax filing season is directionally aligned to our vision of a smart modern Sars, but it is also an accelerated response triggered by the pandemic.”

ALSO READ: Sars to close all tax branches for six weeks due to virus surge

A virtual tax filing season

With its commitment to its strategic intent of voluntary compliance, Sars has started working to transfer all taxpayers to virtual filing using continuous messaging, social media, the Sars website, educational videos and webinars on YouTube, simplified letters, external guides and its chatbot, Lwazi.

Sars has also dedicated 24×7 digital self-help channels on its website, SARS eFiling, the SARS MobiApp, the Sars Online Query System, an SMS service (47277) and Lwazi (chatbot) that will help you with requests such as your tax number, statement of account, audit and refund status.

Taxpayers can also use the Sars toll-free number to make bookings and request a call back. You can also, if you still need assistance to file, request help by logging onto eFiling, calling the contact centre and activating the Help-You-eFile (HYeF) service. An agent will then co-browse with you to help you submit your return.

If you do not have a smart phone, you can still send a free SMS to Sars to request a telephonic booking.

“As a last resort, we will provide assistance at our branches once physical visits resume on an appointment basis. We really want to discourage taxpayers from arriving without an appointment since we want to avoid the indignity of long queues, as well as the risk of exposure to infection,” Kieswetter said.

Last year Sars converted more than 450,000 taxpayers from branch filing to online filing and assisted 180,000 taxpayers by appointment. According to Kieswetter, these efforts ensured that more than 4 million previous branch interactions were migrated to its digital platforms.

Sars also offers an auto-assessment to more than 3 million taxpayers, where Sars presents an assessment outcome based on the information it already has access to. Taxpayers then accept the assessment or edit their returns if they have additional returns information.

ALSO READ: All rental income must be declared to Sars

Sars is watching you

Kieswetter also said Sars was making steady progress to improve its capability to detect and respond to non-compliance. So far Sars has detected and prevented fraudulent attempts to obtain refunds of R57 billion for all taxes and specifically R5 billion for personal income tax.

Sars also detected more than 26,000 individuals who had economic activity in excess of R1 million, but were not registered for tax. In addition the new High Wealth Individual Segment has started its work by sending letters to 275 wealthy individuals who have financial assets abroad.

“This is only the start,” Kieswetter said.

Employers who deduct tax but fail to pay it over to Sars are also being targeted. Sars is working with the National Prosecuting Authority to address the deliberate non-compliance of employers, with successful convictions in three PAYE cases and 11 income tax cases in the past two months.

“Sadly, we have continued to detect several attempts to defraud us in terms of disability claims, rental losses, PAYE credits and business losses. We encourage you to be extra cautious this year, as we continuously step up our detection and risk management capabilities.

“We will specifically focus on new risk dynamics introduced because of Covid-19, such as expenses relating to work from home arrangements and donations to the likes of the Solidarity Fund as well as travel expense claims that should in all probability be much lower due to lockdown.”

ALSO READ: Judge confirms Hamilton Ndlovu’s R36m tax bill

Employing skilled people

Kieswetter said Sars continued to rebuild its human capability to restore some of the capacity eroded in the past decade. “We have progressively increased our remote working capability from an initial 3,000 staff at the beginning of lockdown to more than 10,000 (80%) who now work remotely.”

Sars has embarked on a recruitment drive to replace 570 critical skills, of which 200 are earmarked for graduates, that were lost over the years and 140 of these are close to finalisation. In addition, 86 graduates started their training programme with Sars on Thursday.

ALSO READ: Commodity markets, metal prices, boost Sars’ tax collection

Dealing with corruption

Under the new management, Sars has been stepping up its efforts to deal with internal corruption and, since 2019, 553 internal corruption cases were completed, leading to 51 resignations and 55 dismissals, with 10 criminal convictions of its own staff in the past year.

Filing season dates

  • 1 July-23 November: tax filing season for individuals and trusts
  • 23 November: tax filing season ends
  • 31 January 2022: final date for provisional taxpayers to fulfil all their outstanding filing obligations.