What can I do if SARS ghosts/blue-tick me?

What can I do if SARS ghosts/blue-tick me?

KEY TAKEAWAY POINTS:

  • SARS has 21 business days to complete a verification
  • They may finalise it with or without changes
  • If they take more than 21 business days, you have a right to lodge a complaint
  • If nothing happens, you may take the matter up with the office of the tax ombud
  • Remember to keep a proper track record of the matter and/or any follow-ups you make on the matter
  • In this article, we discuss what verification is, what to do when you are selected for verification and if SARS does not bother to get back to you on time.

INTRODUCTION:

SARS has capacity issues that they are working hard to resolve, But, it seems this 2021 tax season they took more than what they can handle.


We have observed many taxpayers who have been selected for verification but who have not heard back from SARS many days after the verification was initiated. Under normal circumstances, SARS has up to 21 working days to finalise a verification and issue a finalisation letter and/or final or adjusted assessment.


In one case we have looked at, for example, the taxpayer who was selected for verification on 29 July 2021 has not heard back from SARS even at the time of writing this article. We are certain, she is not alone in this.


Let’s look at some important definitions before we can consider what one must do if SARS takes their time on the verifications.


What is verification?


Being selected for an audit and verification are two different processes. With a verification, SARS is doing a face value verification of the information declared by the taxpayer on the declaration or in a return. This involves the comparison of the information on the return against the financial and accounting records and/or other supporting documents. All this is to ensure that the declaration/return is a fair and accurate representation of the taxpayer’s tax position. (Remember, in terms of the Tax Administration Act, the onus is on the taxpayer to provide supporting documentation to prove that the deductions and information on their declaration are reasonable, fair and accurate.)


Who can be selected for verification?


Any taxpayers can be selected for a verification process for the proper administration of tax. The selection can also be done on a risk basis. What should you do if you are selected for verification?


What should you do if I am selected for verification?


SARS will notify the taxpayer if they have selected them for verification. The letter issued will state what the taxpayer must do or provide to SARS. The letter will also notify the taxpayer to check their tax return and to make any corrections if there are any discrepancies on their tax return. The taxpayer will be given 21 business days from the date of the letter in which to provide the supporting documents and schedules. These documents and schedules can be submitted via eFiling or SARS support documents portals.


During the verification, you can expect to get another letter requesting additional information if the relevant material initially supplied was not sufficient to finalize the verification. If you are due for a refund, you may not get this until the verification process is finalised.


What happens if you do not respond to the verification?


It is always important to keep an eye out for SARS correspondences on your email or eFiling. Normally SARS sends you a message and email when they have issued important notices.


If you choose not to respond SARS may:

  • Issue a second letter reminding you to submit relevant information
  • Issue a final request for relevant information
  • If you still do not respond, a SARS official will contact you telephonically and request that you submit the necessary relevant material within 5 business days.
  • Should you still not respond, SARS may raise an assessment based on information readily available or obtain from a third party.

Now let’s consider what your options are if SARS ghosts you.


What if you have complied/responded but SARS takes all the time in the world on the verification?


There is the office of the tax ombud that can help with operational issues. But, it does not get involved before you have exhausted all internal SARS complaints mechanisms. You can only go directly to the office of the tax ombud only if there are compelling reasons to do so.


So, the first step to take is to complain to the SARS complaints office. To do so, you must be sure that the matter is now outside the normal service period, as in the example we have earlier about the taxpayer who was selected for verification on 20 July and has not yet back from SARS ever since.


There are three ways through which one can complain with SARS:

  • Via eFiling. See the step-by-step guide on how to complain eFiling. Please note that you have to be registered on eFiling to be able to do this. You may not download or print the form to send it by any other means. You must also have a valid case number to which your complaint relates.
  • By visiting the branch. If you do, you may need to ensure that you have spoken to all relevant higher people before you leave the branch. Due to covid, you may need to make an online appointment.
  • By calling the SARS Complaints Management office (CMO) on 0860 12 12 16.

Do not call the call normal call centre and say you are following up on an unresolved matter, the call centre agents may just “escalate” your case and normally that achieves very little. If your complaint is not resolved after 21 working days, you may take the matter to the office of the tax ombud.


Here are a few tips on winning the battle against SARS poor service/administrative issues and making sure you have a winnable case when you approach them or the Tax Ombud:


Be specific: 


If you have a complaint, it is better to call the Complaints Management Office (CMO.) If you call the SARS contact centre to get a reference number, specify that it is a complaint with a complaint, specify that it is a complaint and not a follow-up. If you keep calling the call centre and saying you are following up, it may remain just that, a follow-up. You need to specify that you have a complaint so that it is treated as one. Some complaints will need case numbers, make sure you call the contact centre to get one.


Build a compelling case:


The most important thing to do when dealing with SARS is to build a good case, this is whether you are raising a complaint, an appeal or an objection. You will need a system to record your interactions with SARS (at each touchpoint with them). You also need to store documents and supporting documents relevant to the taxpayer’s case. The system of recording your interactions with SARS should allow you to build a timeline of how the case is developed and to ensure that you have all the documents you need for this case.


One such system is to make sure each client file/folder contains relevant subfolders that will help you gather the important and necessary information. The other is to build a dashboard that records the timeline and communications with SARS. This can take any form, for example, Word or Google docs, a task management tool like Asana, Trello or Monday.com.


NB: You do not do this because something has gone wrong, but because things may go wrong and often they do go wrong, but because things may go wrong.


The advantage of doing things this way is that you will save yourself a lot of time when doing the actual complaint, even an appeal or objection. The Tax Ombud form will ask you to summary your case in chronological order. So, if you had been building a case over time, this process will be a breeze. You have all the facts and timeline at your fingertips.


Do you need help with your SARS matters? Contact us here

Timely Financial Reporting/Financial Statements preparation

Timely Financial Reporting/Financial Statements preparation

Financial statements are intended to meet the needs of decision-makers as well as providing useful information to shareholders.  As a result, the timely preparation of these reports is essential. Financial statements must be available in time to inform decision-making. Therefore, it is important that financial reports/financial statements should be published as soon as possible after the end of the reporting period.


However, we should note here that timely financial reporting should not be reduced to a well-managed “busy financial statement drafting season. Rather, ”it requires careful, yearlong planning and monitoring.  Of course, the need for timeliness has to be balanced against the need for reliability, which in addition to timeliness is also an essential characteristic of financial statements.


Requirement of the Companies Act: 

In terms of the Companies Act, Section 30, Companies are required to produce annual financial statements within 6 months of their financial year-end or within any shorter period as may be appropriate to provide the required notice of an annual general meeting in terms of section 61(7). For example, if one’s year-end of Feb 2018, they should have a set of financial statements by end of August 2018.


Recommendations: 

I would like to make the following recommendations about ways to improve the timeliness and reliability of financial reports. These recommendations are based on my personal experiences and cannot be viewed as an exhaustive list.


Do not leave it until the last time: 

It is never a good idea to start the preparation of your financial statements late on in the year. As mentioned in my introduction, the process requires careful yearlong planning and monitoring. Start with clients whose books are updated and are in order on a monthly basis. For me, these are the client I have monthly management meeting with and at each management meeting, we ensure that the accounts for that month are in order. Once we close off the accounts, we do not come back to these to make any changes. You will find that by the year-end, there is little left to do to produce the financial statements because all books are in order. For me, I find that this process ensures the ongoing completeness and accuracy of financial data.


Team collaborations: 

Reid Hoffman once said, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” I cannot stress enough the importance of working as a team and ensuring that the communications among the team are good and maintained. In my firm, as an example, we have three teams that work closely together to produce financial statements; the tax team, the financial statements drafting team and the financial management team. The financial management team is responsible for day-to-day accounting and the production of the Trial balance. The tax team helps with all complex tax matters. The drafting team takes the Trial balances and produces the financial statements.  What makes the teamwork together well is communication, each member communicating whatever changes or processes that take place at any stage of the process. The biggest advantage of all this is that the reliability of the financial statements is greatly improved. The application of tax and financial reporting laws is also improved.


Systems and processes:

I also find that it helps to have proper systems and processes in place for the production of financial statements. Companies should have a financial system that they use to draft financial statements. These should be able to produce financial statements acceptable for submission with SARS and the CIPC. Also, there should be a well-defined process for the production of financial statements. It could be a well-defined checklist, which has all elements that must be checked before a trial balance is imported into the financial statements software. The presence of such a process will also go a long way in producing a reliable set of financial statements.


Closing and financial statement preparation processing: 

The annual closing process. To avoid delays, aim to have your annual close within a month from the end of the financial period. Communicate these deadlines to all people involved in the process so that everyone is aware of the deadlines and the deliverables that each should meet.


Unforeseen circumstances. The financial report preparation process may identify items that could affect the amounts reported in the financial statements, such as legal disputes, contractual obligations e.t.c. In most cases, a reasonable amount of time may be needed to resolve such items. To avoid delays, it may be better to proceed with the issuance of the financial statements based upon reasonable estimates, rather than to delay their issuance.


Planning: 

There is that old saying that says if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is important to carefully when for when the production of financial statements should start, and by whom the financial statements should be prepared. As mentioned earlier, do not leave the drafting to the busy drafting periods. After the year ends, aim to have at least one set of financial statements done per week. Start with those where not too much cleaning is required going to those where late adjustments and more cleaning is done. Also, you may want to aim to submit these financial statements by the time the tax season opens in July. So, plan in a way that will make this possible.


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