The fact that you wear glasses or contact lenses does not in itself mean you have a physical impairment and can claim tax relief for related medical expenses.
The medical expense section of your South African Revenue Service (SARS) tax return has a field for “any physical impairment expenses not recovered from your medical scheme”.
For tax purposes, there is a distinction between a physical impairment and a disability. A person diagnosed by a registered medical practitioner as having a disability, as defined in the Income Tax Act, is entitled to greater tax relief than a person with a physical impairment.
The Act defines “disability” as “a moderate to severe limitation of any person’s ability to function or perform daily activities as a result of a physical, sensory, communication, intellectual or mental impairment, if the limitation has lasted or has a prognosis of lasting more than a year and is diagnosed by a registered medical practitioner”.
The Act does not define “physical impairment”.
Richard Rogers, the director of Bendels Consulting, a tax firm that assists taxpayers with disabilities, says that, according to SARS, a physical impairment is regarded as less restraining than a disability, as defined. This means there must be some form of restriction on your ability to function or perform daily activities, but it is less than a “moderate to severe limitation”.
Rogers says SARS does not require a physical impairment to be diagnosed as prescribed, as required in the case of a disability. This means that if the limitation on your ability to function or perform daily activities is less restricting than a disability, you do not need to submit an ITR-DD (confirmation of diagnosis of disability) form to qualify for the tax relief associated with a physical impairment.
Rogers cautions that, in terms of the Tax Administration Act, the taxpayer bears the burden of proving that an amount qualifies as a reduction of tax payable or as a deduction. So, if you are seeking tax relief for a physical impairment, you need proof of that your ability to function or perform daily activities is limited – for example, a letter from a doctor or a therapist.
Rogers says the ITR-DD form indicates for each type of impairment whether or not that impairment should be assessed before or after maximum correction. “Maximum correction” means appropriate therapy, medication or the use of devices.
Regarding visual impairment, Rogers says that if your ability to see is not at all limited when you wear glasses or contact lenses, you are not considered to have a physical impairment for tax purposes, because your ability to see is no longer limited after maximum correction. If, even when you wear glasses or contact lenses, you have some limitation on your ability to see, but that limitation is less than moderate to severe, you would be considered to have a physical impairment.
Rogers notes that when it comes to a hearing impairment, on the other hand, your impairment needs to be assessed without you making use of an amplification device such as a hearing aid – that is, before maximum correction.
* Don’t forget, the deadline for filing your tax return electronically (e-filing) is less than three weeks away – on Friday, November 21.