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SARS’s digital platforms up tax compliance

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Nov 2023
SARS wraps up the season for non-provisional taxpayers with seven million returns, assisted by its digital channels.
SARS wraps up the season for non-provisional taxpayers with seven million returns, assisted by its digital channels.

With the 2023 tax season for non-provisional taxpayers under its belt, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) recorded the majority of tax returns via its digital platforms.

In a statement issued yesterday, the revenue authority says it received a total of seven million returns from non-provisional taxpayers, compared to six million last year.

During this time, SARS says 88% of personal income tax returns were made through its eFiling and MobiApp platforms.

Additionally, 93% of returns were processed in five seconds and 79% of refunds were processed in 72 hours, with more than R29 billion already paid in refunds.

According to SARS, auto-assessments are also gaining traction, with four million taxpayers receiving assessments already calculated in the current year, up from three million the previous year.

“The rapid development of data science, algorithms, machine learning and the various third-party data sources enabled SARS to provide taxpayers with a smooth and seamless service experience. While these digital platforms have been used to give the best service to compliant taxpayers, it has also allowed SARS to identify categories of non-compliant taxpayers.”

The auto-assessment is a pre-populated income tax return to help simplify the submission process. Taxpayers are issued with SMS notices of their automatically assessed returns, making it easier for them to receive their tax refund within 72 hours of approval.

“We do believe auto-assessments are for the benefit of the citizenry, but also for us so that we can reduce our volumes,” says Mark Kingon, head of stakeholder relations at SARS.

Compliance gains

SARS notes it has seen an increase in compliance levels. It previously revealed thatdata-driven and automated risk engines that detect non-compliance are yielding results, adding R79 billion to the national fiscus in the 2022/23 financial year.

However, the tax authority remains concerned about non-compliant taxpayers who have not submitted a return as required.

According to SARS, it has identified registered taxpayers who have not, for whatever reason, filed a return; taxpayers who have not made a payment where it was due; taxpayers who are not registered as taxpayers despite being economically active; and taxpayers who may in the past not have been required to file, but receive income from employment, investments, rental or other income.

“Non-compliant taxpayers are reminded that they do face legal consequences for failing to register, file a return and/or make payments where applicable.

“These taxpayers are urged to regularise their tax matters as a matter of urgency and are encouraged to approach the voluntary disclosure (VDP) unit before SARS contacts them. If such a taxpayer’s VDP application reaches SARS after SARS has contacted them, the VDP option falls away and their applications will not be accepted.

“SARS is willing and ready to assist taxpayers who want to be compliant. Where taxpayers wilfully and intentionally ignore their legal obligations, SARS will act sternly.”

SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter expressed his appreciation to compliant taxpayers who have discharged their legal obligations.

However, cautioning non-compliant taxpayers, Kieswetter states: “Some taxpayers are intentionally non-compliant by making false declarations to SARS or plainly ignoring their legal obligations.

“Those who engage in such conduct must know that what they are doing is in fact not only a civil offence, but also a criminal offence, which will be met with the proportionate response. The courts have confirmed that SARS is acting lawfully by confronting non-compliance.”