Monday 13 August 2018

SARS Commits to Service Charter

SARS finally released the SARS Service Charter on 1 July 2018, the day on which filing season for 2018 commenced. One important use of the Charter is to allow the Office of the Tax Ombud to evaluate SARS’ actual levels of service against the level of service prescribed in the Charter. SARS faced calls from the Office of the Tax Ombud to release the Charter, but it remained outstanding for a number of years.
The Charter sets out what SARS does and how it seeks to meet its mandate under the South African Revenue Service Act, 34 of 1997. The document sets out taxpayers’ rights and obligations, but does not create any new rights. The rights in the document flow from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and the obligations flow from the fiscal statutes.
The rights and obligations set out in the Charter are as follows:
SARS will:
Help you by providing
• Courteous and professional service at all times
• Clear, accurate and helpful responses
• Instructions that are clear and concise on the actions you need to take and by when
• Access to SARS via eFiling, the SARS Contact Centre, SARS branches and Mobile Tax Units
• Self-explanatory leaflets and booklets on the SARS website and in branches
Be fair to you by
• Expecting you to pay only what is due under law
• Treating everyone equally
• Ensuring everyone pays their fair share
• Informing you if and when prescribed timeframes cannot be met
Respect your constitutional rights and privacy by
• Keeping your tax affairs strictly confidential
• Furnishing you with reasons for decisions taken regarding your tax and customs affairs
• Applying the law consistently and impartially
If you are not satisfied, you may
• Exercise your right to request reasons for decisions and outcomes regarding your personal tax affairs
• Exercise your right to object and appeal against an assessment or qualifying decision
• Lodge an administrative complaint via eFiling, at a SARS branch or via the SARS Contact Centre
• After having exhausted all administrative complaints processes within SARS, lodge a complaint with the Office of the Tax Ombud
In return, your obligations are to
• Be honest
• Submit full and accurate information on time
• Comply with all prescribed administrative processes and timeframes
• Pay your tax and/or duties on time and in full, using the correct payment reference number(s)
• Encourage others to pay their tax and/or duties on time and in full
• Not encourage or be party to any corrupt activity or fraud in any form
• Ensure that SARS has your correct personal information and payment details
• Take responsibility for your tax affairs, even if you have authorised someone to act on your behalf.
• Show our staff respect just as they are expected to respect you. If someone else acts on your behalf, we expect the same respect from them.’
The SARS Service Charter sets out what SARS does and how it seeks to meet its mandate
under the South African Revenue Service Act, 34 of 1997

Image bought from i-Stock "Compliance" by almagami

From a review of the Charter it appears that SARS want taxpayers to encourage other taxpayers to pay their tax and or duties on time and in full. Whilst the sentiment for this statement is understood it has no legal basis and cannot be legally enforced.
The Charter also sets out the levels of service taxpayers can expect when interacting with SARS. It deals with the following types of interactions with SARS:

·         Engagement
·         Registration
·         Returns/Declarations
·         Inspection, audit and verification
·         Refunds
·         Payments
·         Debt
·         Disputes in terms of the Tax Administration Act
·         Disputes in terms of the Customs and Excise Act

Where SARS fails to adhere to the time frames specified in the Charter, the taxpayer would have to complain to SARS and adhere to the prescribed complaints process or lodge a complaint with the Tax Ombud in the prescribed manner.

It must be noted that the Charter is not a legal document and is only a statement of intent on the part of SARS.  The Charter does not address the question of taxpayers recovering wasted costs from SARS which is catered for in a number of other countries.

In the United States, the Taxpayer Advocate, an office similar to the Tax Ombud, can issue Taxpayer assistance orders directing the Internal Revenue Service to refrain from taking action against taxpayers in certain well-defined cases. It is unfortunate that, in South Africa, the Tax Ombud does not, at this stage, have a similar power.

Another problem that still needs to be addressed is the issue of legal assistance for indigent taxpayers. In the United States, taxpayers can go to Low Income Taxpayer Clinics for assistance with their tax affairs. It is hoped that in time something similar will be introduced in South Africa.

Hopefully, SARS will meet the timeframes stated in the SARS Service Charter and, whilst the Charter may not be perfect, it is hoped that it will encourage enhanced tax compliance and result in a better relationship between taxpayers and SARS.

Taxpayers need to be aware of their rights and obligations in the tax arena and the Charter should assist in this regard. Likewise, SARS needs to be mindful of taxpayers’ rights and must uphold those rights as stated in the newly released Service Charter.

Dr Beric Croome is a Tax Executive  at ENSafrica. This article first appeared in Business Day, Business Law and Tax Review, August 2018.

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