Can a third party collect my taxes?

In SIP Project Managers (Pty) Ltd v CSARS (29 April 2020), the Gauteng Division of the High Court ruled against SARS on the appointment of a third-party (Standard Bank, in this case) to collect tax debts from taxpayers’ accounts. The matter was an application for declaratory relief against SARS for such an appointment to be set aside and declared null and void, and that SARS repays an amount of R1,261,007 which was paid over by Standard Bank as the third-party agent to SARS.

In its application, SIP contended that no letter of demand was received from SARS as is required in section 179 of the Tax Administration Act. SIP also submitted that if the Court found that the letters were delivered, then these were premature, and that no debt was yet due or payable at that time, and that the 10 business days (as is required in the Admin Act) had not expired before the delivery of the third-party notice.

The Tax Administration Act stipulates that a notice to a third party may only be issued after delivery of final demand for payment, which must be delivered at least 10 business days before the issue of the notice, as well as recovery steps that SARS may take and also further relief mechanisms available to the taxpayer. This is a peremptory step required to be taken before issuing a third-party notice for recovery of outstanding tax debt.

The Court stressed that it was not enough for the existence of final demand. However, that final demand should have actually been delivered in accordance with the Rules for Electronic Communication prescribed in terms of the Tax Administration Act, and if an acknowledgement is not received the communication is not regarded as having been delivered except for via eFiling.

As SARS had not furnished proof of the letter being sent via eFiling, and the there was no other proof of delivery, the Court held that SARS had not delivered a final demand to SIP before appointing Standard Bank as the third-party agent.

The notice issued is therefore unlawful and declared null and void by the Court, and SARS was required to repay the full amount, with costs, to SIP.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted. (E&OE)

Changes to the dispute management process

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recently introduced certain changes and improvements to its current dispute management process.

Any taxpayer who is aggrieved by any assessment may request SARS to provide those reasons for the assessment sufficient to enable the taxpayer to formulate an objection. For the first time, taxpayers will be able to make such a request for reasons for an assessment electronically via eFiling or at any SARS branch. This automated functionality will be available for personal income tax (PIT), corporate income tax (CIT) and value-added tax (VAT). Where a valid request for reasons has been identified by the SARS system, the period that an objection can be lodged will be automatically extended to the period permitted by the Dispute Resolution Rules issued by SARS in terms of section 103 of the Tax Administration Act.[1]

The new dispute management process will also introduce a separate condonation workflow whereby the taxpayer will be allowed to submit a Request for Reasons, Notice of Objection (NOO) or Notice of Appeal (NOA) after the periods prescribed by the Dispute Resolution Rules have lapsed. Previously, the condonation process was included in the actual dispute process. To the extent therefore that a dispute was treated by SARS as invalid (as opposed to not being allowed to proceed as a result of a late submission), taxpayers were confused as to the outcome of the dispute and what the next available step in the dispute process was. The new automated condonation process therefore allows SARS to attend to requests for condonation for the late submission of the relevant notices or requests before attending to the dispute itself. This will ensure that the late submission is aligned with the legislation as it will prevent situations where the dispute is simply classified as invalid merely because the relevant submission is late (quite often automatically).

Taxpayers will also now be able to request SARS to suspend certain payments of VAT pending the outcome of a VAT dispute via eFiling or at a SARS branch similar to the requests for suspension of payments that were already implemented for PIT and CIT in 2015.

eFiling will furthermore be made an entirely guided process to ensure that the dispute is submitted according to legislative requirements and to eliminate any invalid disputes from being submitted to SARS.

The take-away is that SARS regards these changes as part of its ongoing commitment to delivering a better service to taxpayers. The changes to the dispute management process are therefore aimed at aligning the process more closely with the relevant legislation, to remove uncertainties that existed with regards to the dispute process and to make the process easier to follow.

[1]28 of 2011

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Transactions required to be reported to SARS in terms of the Tax Administration Act

Certain transactions are required to be reported to the South African Revenue Service (‘SARS’) as and when entered into (section 37 of the Tax Administration Act, 28 of 2011 (‘the Admin Act’)).  These are referred to as ‘reportable arrangements’, and qualify as such when an ‘arrangement’ (defined as including any transaction, agreement, scheme or understanding) either meets one of the criteria set out in section 35(1)(a) to (e), or if specifically listed in a public notice issued by the Commissioner for SARS.  This article is concerned only with the former.

Failure to report a ‘reportable arrangement’ will result in a monthly penalty being levied against non-compliant taxpayers ranging from between R50,000 to R300,000 per month (section 212), for up to 12 months.  The purpose for requiring taxpayers to report certain transactions is obvious:  to allow SARS to monitor transactions on an ongoing basis which it considers to exhibit potential traits of tax avoidance.

Section 35(1) determines that arrangements which exhibit any one of the below criteria qualify as a reportable arrangement.  These are arrangements which:

(a) contain provisions in terms of which the calculation of interest, finance costs, fees or any other charges is wholly or partly dependent on the tax treatment of that arrangement;

(b) have any of the characteristics contemplated in section 80C(2)(b) of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, or substantially similar characteristics (which include round trip financing, involving an accommodating or tax indifferent party in the arrangement or if the arrangement contains elements which offset or cancel each other);

(c) give rise to an amount that is or will be disclosed by any participant as:

  1. )  a deduction for purposes of the Income Tax Act but not as an expense for accounting purposes; or

(ii) revenue for accounting purposes, but not as gross income for purposes of the Income Tax Act;

(d) do not result in a reasonable expectation of an accounting pre-tax profit for any participant; or

(e) result in a reasonable expectation of an accounting pre-tax profit for any participant, but which is less than the value of the tax benefit to that participant if both are discounted to present value at the end of the first year of assessment when the tax benefit is created.

Irrespective of the above, even if an arrangement would qualify as a reportable arrangement in terms of the above, section 36 of the Admin Act lists various criteria which, if met, would render an arrangement an ‘excluded arrangement’ whereby such transactions need not be reported to SARS.  Moreover, in terms of the public notice issued by the Commissioner on 16 March 2015 in Government Gazette no. 38569 as Notice 212, a transaction would not be reportable in terms of the above criteria only if the tax benefit arising from the arrangement for all persons involved would not exceed R5 million.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.

Tax ombud: Recourse for aggrieved taxpayers

1BThe Tax Administration Act that came into effect on 1 October 2012 is a valiant attempt to balance the rights of the taxman with those of the taxpayer.  One of the ways of bolstering the taxpayer’s position on this not very level playing field is the creation of the office of the ombudsman or Tax Ombud.

Exactly one year after the inception of the Act, Gauteng Judge President Ngoepe was appointed as the first incumbent of this office.  The mandate of the Ombud is set out in section 16(1) of the Act:

…to review and address any complaint by a taxpayer regarding a service matter or a procedural or administrative matter arising from the application of a tax Act.

The aim is to provide taxpayers with a low-cost mechanism to address administrative difficulties that cannot be resolved by SARS.  The Ombud’s powers are however limited.  He may not review legislation or policy unless it relates to a service, procedural or administrative matter.  Although the Act is not clear on the issue, the decision as to whether a matter falls within the scope of his mandate probably lies with the Ombud himself.

What is clear is that a complainant is required to first exhaust the available complaint resolution mechanisms within SARS before approaching the office of the Ombud, unless there are compelling circumstances for not doing so.  This will, for instance, be the case where exhausting internal mechanisms will cause undue hardship to the taxpayer, or is not likely to produce a result within a reasonable period of time.

Complaints are to be made in writing on the prescribed form to the office of the Ombud.  A copy of the complaint form can be requested from the Ombud’s office by telephone, fax or email.  The form must be completed and signed by the taxpayer.  If a tax practitioner or other person completes and signs the form on behalf of the taxpayer it is advisable for the client to complete a power of attorney specifically for this purpose.  All supporting documents must be attached to the form.  A request for review of the complaint should include any correspondence received or sent relating to the complaint, call reference numbers, and the relevant contact details of the SARS officials with whom the taxpayer dealt.  It is recommended that the complainant specifically indicates which internal remedies were pursued and what SARS’s response thereto was.

If a taxpayer is unsure as to whether or not his complaint falls within the Ombud’s mandate, or if a taxpayer is unable to write his complaint, he may call the Ombud’s office where trained professional staff will attend to the call and advise him accordingly.

The Ombud may review and address a complaint in a number of ways, including by way of mediation or conciliation.  He may also facilitate a taxpayer’s access to complaint resolution mechanisms within SARS.  Ultimately he must follow informal, fair and cost-effective procedures in resolving a complaint.

The Ombud’s recommendations regarding the resolution of a matter are not binding on SARS.  In the interests of legitimacy and transparency it is however likely that SARS will follow these recommendations.

Reports by the Ombud to the Minister of Finance must be submitted on an annual basis.  In addition, he must also report to the Commissioner of SARS at quarterly intervals.  This report must contain recommendations for such administrative action as may be appropriate to resolve the problems encountered by taxpayers.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.