With tax-filing season upon us, now is a good time to remind ourselves of the valuable role played by the Tax Ombud, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, and his office.
The Tax Ombud is independent of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). According to its website, it provides “a fair and simple way to seek a resolution for a service, procedure or administrative dispute you have already unsuccessfully tried to resolve through SARS”.
The ombud will not fight your case if you believe the amount SARS requires you to pay after being assessed, or any interest or penalties imposed, is too high. There is a separate process for that through SARS and the tax courts.
The ombud deals with complaints about poor procedure, service or administration, “striving to ensure that you receive the professional service and fair treatment you, as a taxpayer, are entitled to”.
The Tax Administration Act authorises the Tax Ombud to, among other things:
• Review a complaint and, if necessary, resolve it through mediation or conciliation;
• Facilitate your access to the complaint-resolution mechanisms within SARS;
• Identify and review systemic and emerging issues that impact negatively on taxpayers; and
• Make a recommendation to SARS on how a complaint should be resolved.
As reported in Personal Finance recently, some sections of your tax return this year require you to provide additional information, and you must verify your identity at a SARS branch if any of your personal details have changed since your last return. This might lead to complaints down the line, the chief executive of the Tax Ombud’s Office, Advocate Eric Mkhawane, said. He said complaints to the office usually spike towards the end of the tax season.
Asked about the often seemingly endless queues at SARS branches, where people wait for hours to be served, Mkhawane said this was a concern for the ombud’s office, particularly because people often have to take an entire day off work to sort out their tax affairs. This problem might be exacerbated by branches being inundated with people verifying their personal details, according to the recent requirement.
He said the office could in principle approach SARS if it receives complaints about long queues and slow service at branches.
Mkhawane said a common complaint to the ombud, which the office is often successful in resolving, is about delays in taxpayers being refunded what is owed to them.
One happy taxpayer, on the resolution of his complaint, wrote to the ombud: “I received my tax refund (more than R16 000) three days before Christmas. Thank you so much for your efforts in assisting me with my complaint, as your involvement ensured an amicable and speedy resolution.”
If you have a complaint against SARS, you must first try to resolve the issue with SARS. If you are unsuccessful and the complaint falls within the ombud’s mandate, go to www.taxombud.gov.za and download a complaint form.
The office can be reached on ShareCall number 0800 662 837, or you can email [email protected]