MEDIA STATEMENT: UPDATE ON SARS FILING SEASON (PIT)

Pretoria, 20 August 2020 - On Thursday 30 July, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) launched the next phase of Filing Season 2020, namely the filing of individual tax returns.

In keeping with the core principles of our Strategic Intent, we follow the approach of Voluntary Compliance. This means that we make the assumption that most taxpayers are honest, and want to comply.

For these taxpayers who honestly seek to comply, we work to help them understand their obligations and make it easy to comply. For millions, we aim to make the process almost seamless to fulfil their obligations. At the same time, we need to present a more credible threat and act against taxpayers who are either negligent or those who willfully or even criminally choose not to comply. Against this background, we;
 
A. Communicated our intent for the next phase of filing season:
1. To keep everyone safe during the time of COVID-19.
2. To remove the burden of compliance by introducing auto-assessment for more than 3 million taxpayers.
3. To facilitate/coach those who are required to file to move from physical filing at our SARS offices to convert to online filing through our enhanced eFiling website or MobiApp.
4. To demonstrate care and concern for those who are truly unable to adopt one of our self-help channels.
 
B. Shared what we have done and will do to achieve our intent:
1. We will communicate continuously to provide you with clarity of your tax obligations through social media, direct messaging, SARS website and educational videos and webinars.
2. We have added more than 30 additional digital functions during the initial phases of lockdown to expand our digital offering to all taxpayers and intermediaries to completely remove the need to visit a SARS office, but do everything online.
3. We have used a broad variety of data as well as algorithms to inform the design of our filing season, as well as optimise the experience for compliant taxpayers and detect any form of non-compliance. 
4. Taxpayers are able to call the SARS Contact Centre and make use of SARS HelpYou-eFile to compete your return online. We have enabled almost 1000 call centre agents with a virtual platform to conduct interviews and assist taxpayers. As from Friday 28 August, we will introduce a dedicated toll-free line specifically to enable taxpayers to make appointments for an assisted filing experience. 
5. To provide for those who absolutely insist on visiting a SARS office, an appointment-only approach will be followed to avoid long and undignified queues and practice social distancing.
6. In our SARS offices we will first try to assist you to file online, and only as the absolute last resort, we will file your return with one of our frontline staff.
7. At all times we will strive to honour our Service Charter commitments.
8. We will step up our efforts to detect and communicate to remind you when you have failed to comply and give you an opportunity to correct this.
9. We will act more decisively against taxpayers who remain non-complaint for any reason.
 
C. Most importantly, we made specific commitments as to what you could expect from us. We will now report how we are achieving against these, since the start of individual filing season:   
1. Commitment: To invite more than 3 million taxpayers to participate in the expanded use of our auto-assessment feature and trust the majority will find it easy to use.
Achievement: We sent just over 3.1 million SMS’s by Friday, 31 July 2020. To date, more than 460 000 taxpayers accepted their auto-assessments. In total, we have received just over 1 million submissions of which 851 000 or 83% are via eFiling and 160 000 or 16% were via the MobiApp. Around 8 500 returns, or around 1% were filed through virtual assistance sessions and more than 8 700 taxpayers made appointments via our booking system. We are encouraged that more than 115 000 taxpayers, who were habitual branch filers in previous years, made the transition to our convenient digital channels over the past three weeks. As from 19 August, we started to reach out telephonically to the remaining habitual branch filers, starting with those who, based on our information, qualify for a refund. Our intention is to assist you to file your return through a digitally-enabled experience, in order to release the refund due to you at earliest convenience.         
We also confirm that we continue to receive updates to third party data and alert taxpayers, who haven’t filed yet, that the amount on the SMS they have received may differ from the actual assessment issued when logging on to the eFiling website or MobiApp. This is mainly due to late submissions of employee information by many employers.  We confirm that once you are logged onto the eFiling system or MobiApp platform, the assessment outcome is based on the most up-to-date information.   
We encourage taxpayers to take care and confirm the correctness of the auto-assessment and elect to accept and confirm or should they need to, to edit their returns. To expedite the assessment, any additional information should be accompanied by the supporting documents.
2. Commitment: To provide at least 8 out of every 10 taxpayers with an assessment outcome in under 3 seconds. This will largely be dependent on the infrastructure used by taxpayers e.g. speed of the network used to connect to SARS. 
Achievement: 
We remain focused and are striving to ensure that over the filing season we will achieve this aspiration. During business hours, which are the busiest times during which most returns are filed, we note that more than 90% of taxpayers experience a response time of less than 5 seconds to receive their assessment.
3. Commitment: Pay at least 7 out of every 10 taxpayers their refund if it’s due, within 72 hours if nothing else is required to resolve a data mismatch, incorrect or outstanding banking details, outstanding returns, other compliance aspects, etc.
Achievement: To date, we have paid 90% of refunds within 72 hours. 652 162 taxpayers received refunds to the value of R6.6bn. We are pleased that for so many taxpayers, their refund brings much-needed relief.
4. Commitment: Be specific when we request any outstanding information that is holding up your assessment.
Achievement:  SARS alerted 50% fewer taxpayers compared to the same period last year. This is made possible by the significant enhancement of our risk rules.  We are encouraged by those taxpayers who promptly responded to our notifications.
5. Commitment: Conclude 7 out of every 10 audits, when an audit is required, alternatively improve our communication with you to manage expectations. This will be dependent on taxpayer participation and we urge you to be responsive when requested to submit additional information in time.
Achievement: To date, SARS concluded more than 21 000 verifications. We remain focused on our Service Charter commitments and more updates will follow as the first 30 days elapse. We specifically acknowledge those taxpayers who promptly responded when requested to participate in verifications and are encouraged by the positive feedback received.
6. Commitment: Issue letters for late and outstanding returns and impose penalties as prescribed in law immediately after the closing dates. We also draw your attention to Government’s approach to the design of incentives and relief measures that were premised on those who are tax compliant.
Achievement: This will follow after the respective due dates. 
7. Commitment: Enforce the administrative steps in terms of the Tax Administration Act including the prosecution of those who fail to respond appropriately.
Achievement: This will follow as a result of our interventions and we encourage taxpayers to take utmost care not to file incorrect declarations.
8. Commitment: Name and shame those convicted of criminal offences. Whilst we are passionate to make it easy for taxpayers to comply, we are equally focused on stepping up our ability to detect non-compliance on all fronts.
Achievement: We will follow through with this, in line with and in addition to point 7 above.
 
For clarity we confirm the following dates:
 
1 AUGUST - 31 AUGUST
Filing of returns commence through any of the SARS eChannels, namely the eFiling website & MobiAPP.
 
1 SEPTEMBER 2020 - 16 NOVEMBER 2020
Taxpayers who require assistance may call our contact centre for completing their tax returns with the assistance of an agent.
As an absolute last resort, taxpayers may make an appointment over the phone or on our appointment facility on our website, and will be assigned a slot to visit a SARS office.  In the interest of social distancing we want to discourage unscheduled visits to our offices. An unscheduled visit may lead you to end up in undesirable long queues, which we want to avoid as far as possible.
 
22 OCTOBER 2020
This is the closing date for taxpayers who elect to file at a SARS office - we remind you to please make an appointment should you need assistance.
 
16 NOVEMBER 2020
This is the closing date for taxpayers who file online using the eFiling website or MobiApp.
 
29 JANUARY 2021
This is the final date for provisional taxpayers to fulfil all their outstanding filing obligations.
2020 is a huge step towards a re-imagined SARS.
We have developed a comprehensive Change Management Programme with regular communication, educational material and other support during the entire filing season.  
Please bear with us as we seek to balance the fulfilment of the SARS mandate and your tax obligations with the need for managing the health risks and limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
Please try to file from the comfort of your home - if you need help, kindly visit our website www.sars.gov.za or call our Contact Centre on 0800 00 7277. From Friday 28 August, in addition to the current website functionality, you will also be able to make a branch booking by making use of a dedicated toll free number: 0800 11 7277. Your booking can be made up to 60 days in advance.
And if you absolutely must, make an appointment to visit our branches.
 
Keep your social distance.
Stay safe.
And comply with your tax obligations, so we can build South Africa together.
#YourTaxMatters.
 

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