Illustration: Colin Daniel

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) has shortened this year’s filing season by three weeks, giving non-provisional taxpayers from July 1 to October 31 to file their returns. In a statement released this week, acting Sars Commissioner Mark Kingon said the reduced filing season would allow the authority to increase efficiency. 

The deadline applies to pro- visional taxpayers who file at a Sars branch. Provisional taxpayers who use eFiling have until January 31, 2019 to file. The manual submissions deadline is September 21.

Sars’s campaign theme for 2018 is “No Sweat!”, telling taxpayers the revenue authority is ready for them and that it might be tax season but that they shouldn’t sweat. “The path to compliance is easy-peasy”.

Historically, the traditional filing season ran from July to November. 

“A shorter filing season allows additional time for Sars, taxpayers and the tax fraternity to deal with return verifications before most taxpayers go on the December holiday break. Often there are delays with taxpayers having to respond to our queries and requests over the holiday break. The quiet period after the first three months of tax season has now been removed, resulting in efficient use of our resources,” Kingon said.

He said Sars had improved efficiencies and its service to taxpayers, made better use of their resources and technology, and factored in taxpayer feedback. In assessing its operations and taxpayer trends, Sars looked at data on the volumes at branches, the reasons for taxpayers’ visits, as well as who was filing tax returns.

“Our findings show that too many people who are not required to file, due to them earning a single source of income from one employer of up to R350 000, are going to a branch.” Unnecessary filings were clogging up the system, leading to taxpayer frustrations and service delays. Sars said many people were attempting to file when they were not required to do so: during the 2016 tax season, 1.8 million people who did not need to submit a tax return did so, while 1.6m people attempted to do so last year. 

Another concern is that some employers and employment agen- cies ask job seekers to first register for taxpayer reference numbers before they can be em- ployed. “A job seeker does not need to visit us to obtain a taxpayer reference number.  We provide employers with [email protected] – a simple eFiling platform tailored for the employer’s needs, which they can use to register employees for income tax,” he said. 

A large number of returns were being filed for prior years. During the 2017 tax season, 733 000 tax returns were for previous years. In 2016, that number totalled a million. 

“While taxpayers’ desire to bring their tax affairs up to date is welcomed, this makes processing returns for the current year of assessment more challenging. We would like to move towards clearing the backlog and encourage taxpayers to be informed about their tax obligations and file their returns on time.”

Sars wants to discourage those registered for eFiling from visiting their branches. Last year, they had more than 868 560 walk-ins. The previous season, 935 269 registered eFilers used branches to file. Tax practitioners, whose primary filing method is eFiling, were also cluttering up the system by visiting branches to file returns. This will no longer be allowed.

Vincent Radebe of Tax Consult- ing SA welcomed the move, saying: “(Sars) found there is an inundation of people going to file at a branch while they are not required to do so; many returns are being filed for prior years; registered eFilers are unnecessarily filing at branches; tax practitioners who primarily file via eFiling are using branches to file taxpayers’ returns.” 

Stephan de Wet from Futura Optimum Solutions added: “The earlier deadline will assist Sars in finalising returns sooner and will probably force the commercial sector to get the IRP5s out sooner and in time. 

"Medical aids, generally speak- ing, have been the worst performers in recent years in terms of getting their certificates out timeously, so hopefully this will speed things up and improve satisfaction levels on both sides of the fence.”

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