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SARS system boosts 'Who Am I Online'

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The South African Revenue Services (SARS) system that will be leveraged by the home affairs 'Who Am I Online' (WAIO) project achieved a 57% improvement in queuing times during the tax season.

SARS introduced an electronic queue management system at its branches in time for the tax return period. It says the system has had a substantial impact on reducing queuing times, especially during peak periods.

In response to a parliamentary question, finance minister Pravin Gordhan said a 57% improvement in average queuing times was achieved, despite a 58% increase in the number of taxpayers visiting branches during the 2010 tax season compared to 2009.

Time figures

The total number of taxpayers that visited branches in the 2009/10 period was 210 392, and during the 2010/11period it was 332 293. Gordhan further said the number of taxpayers attended to within 30 minutes was 23 899 for the 2009/10 period and 216 471 for the 2010/11 period. The average queuing time for 2009/10 was then 01:10:27 and for 2010/11 it was 00:34:18.

“It took just seven weeks in tax season 2010 to reach one million submissions, compared to 16 weeks in 2008,” said Gordhan.

The minister noted that further measures to reduce queues at branches include the establishment of additional branches, the deployment of mobile service vehicles, and the deployment of service staff to outreach points, including in various shopping malls at which assistance is given by SARS.

Cost cuts

The WAIO project will see the overhaul of the Department of Home Affairs' (DHA's) systems. It aims to replace outdated and obsolete legacy systems, as well as improve security.

The DHA will leverage the queue management system, as well as other SARS systems, to cut the costs of its project. Sharing this infrastructure with SARS and paying off financial leases early will save the department approximately R2 billion in terms of WAIO.

Barry Hore, COO of SARS, explains the similarity between the SARS system and the one the DHA requires.

“It is not hard to imagine that we could allow those who are fortunate enough to have a PC at home to fill in an application for a passport or ID document online, arrive at a home affairs office and then be subjected to the live capture process.”

He explains that live capture refers to the capturing of fingerprints, pictures and signatures online and in real-time that can be kept at the department for record purposes.

“What we discovered at SARS is that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a PC at home. We, therefore, put a mechanism in place where you can come to a SARS office, sit across from a consultant and receive assistance. It is, therefore, not too difficult to imagine how we can simply change the forms and adapt this system to the department.”

Tech uptake

According to SARS, it is because of this mechanism that by the end of November last year, more than 1.7 million returns had been submitted electronically via e-filing, while SARS branch offices assisted more than 1.3 million taxpayers to submit their returns electronically.

“Through the increased use of technology, 95% of all returns were submitted electronically - either by taxpayers or their intermediaries on e-filing, or by SARS on behalf of taxpayers. This significantly improved turnaround times and efficiency.”

SARS commissioner Oupa Magashula reported that the e-filing solution has been enhanced to allow contact centre and branch staff to be able to see the full history of interaction over a case to help resolve queries. This is achieved through its e-case tracking facility.

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