SARS prioritises digital services as it navigates COVID-19 crisis

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SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter. (Photo source: Twitter)
SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter. (Photo source: Twitter)

Amid the socio-economic challenges posed by the spread of COVID-19 in the country, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has stepped up its digital offerings in terms of how it approaches its way of doing business.

So said SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter, briefing media yesterday about the tax collector’s response to the COVID-19 challenges and the impact on revenue collection.

Since taking office in May last year, Kieswetter has been vocal about the need to boost the revenue service’s technological capacity and derive insights from data, for a re-imagined SARS of the future.

On Tuesday, the commissioner saidCOVID-19 has meant SARS had to review the way it works, adding it has stepped up its efforts to convert more taxpayers to digital offerings.

“First, as part of our Vision 2024, we have committed to build a smart modern SARS with unquestionable integrity, trusted and admired,” he stated. “We have decided to use the COVID-19 crisis to step up our work towards this vision. I am pleased to share that our technology and data management teams have worked tirelessly and added 30 additional functionalities to our digital offering.”

Among the digital enhancements Kieswetter highlighted yesterday is the automated registration for personal income tax, with almost 6 000 registrations having already taken place.

Furthermore, the Notice of Registration for VAT is now available on SARS’s e-filing, to allow VAT vendors to view, print or save their notice of registration. Almost 5 000 have already been facilitated, he revealed.

“Taxpayers may use the enhanced e-filing system to check their compliance status, review their registration details, complete proof of registration, and obtain a statement of account – individuals and businesses.

“Non-filers can now submit supporting documents via the Web – to reduce the need to come to our offices – over 1 200 submissions to date.

“We have suspended the need for VAT interviews as a pre-registration requirement to post registration – almost 3 000 taxpayers have taken this up and developed a streamlined banking details verification process by using enhanced data matching and artificial intelligence-based verification – 14 800 already completed.”

Kieswetter stated the revenue service has enhanced the process for online tax directives where individual taxpayers or their practitioners may apply via e-filing.

“We’ve integrated our e-mail system with our automated case management system to allow taxpayers as an exception to send queries via e-mail – this has allowed many of our staff working from home to resolve taxpayer queries – almost 5 000 have already been resolved.

“[SARS] introduced an online appointment system for those taxpayers and tax practitioners who remain insistent or unable to convert to our digital offerings – we did this to avoid unnecessary queues at our branches in support of public health and social distancing measures.”

He added the tax collector enhanced its Web site with enabling information and FAQs to assist taxpayers, traders and practitioners. “We are currently redesigning our Web site to enhance navigation and functionality and align it to our refreshed branding which we will launch shortly.”

The commissioner indicated additional enhancements are in the works.

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