At some point over the many years of submitting returns and paying taxes, individual and corporate taxpayers will have grounds to dispute an assessment or decision from SARS. Fortunately, there are clear dispute resolution rules that guide both the taxpayer and SARS in resolving these disputes.
Earlier this year, some changes were made to SARS’ dispute resolution rules, and in this article we briefly summarise the most important changes and provide reminders of crucial issues that remain unchanged.
In South Africa, taxpayers have the right to dispute tax assessments, interest, late payment penalties, and administrative penalties for various taxes, including Personal Income Tax (PIT), Corporate Income Tax (CIT), Value-Added Tax (VAT), and Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE). This is done by submitting requests such as Request for Reason, Request for Late Submission (Condonation), Request for Remission (RFR), Notice of Objection (NOO), Notice of Appeal (NOA), and Suspension of Payment.
Recent changes to the procedures to lodge an objection and appeal against an assessment or decision aim to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of tax dispute resolution. Here are the key changes:
- Taxpayers now have 80 business days to file a Notice of Objection against a SARS assessment or decision, a significant increase from the previous 30-day window. Taxpayers are not obliged to wait the full 80-day period.
- All substantiating documentation must now be submitted within the extended 80-day objection period, making it crucial to request reasons for an assessment before objecting. Previously taxpayers were only required to list the substantiating documents.
- Taxpayers can request an additional 30-day extension beyond the 80-day period for valid reasons and, in exceptional cases, an extension up to three years.
- Taxpayers and SARS can agree on shorter periods for dispute resolution, not just extensions as per the old rules.
- Taxpayers can appeal the outcome of an objection on new grounds not raised in the NOO, if it doesn’t pertain to a previously unchallenged part of the assessment.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) changes now require facilitators to have appropriate tax experience and to be acceptable to both parties. A senior SARS official must appoint the facilitator within 15 days of the ADR commencement. Interim ADR reports must be delivered within five days after the meeting, and final reports within 10 days following the end of ADR proceedings.
- SARS must now issue assessments within 45 days of a settlement being reached in a dispute and/or after receipt of the Tax Court’s decision from the Registrar.
- SARS must provide a statement explaining why they made an assessment and why they oppose an appeal to the tax court. SARS can now add new grounds for disallowing objections or appeals, unless it changes the assessment basis significantly or requires a new assessment.
- Changes to the Tax Board and Tax Court processes include the issuance of subpoenas by the Tax Board clerk or Tax Court registrar, with parties having the right to challenge these if they find them irrelevant or unreasonable.
- An email address is now expressly included as an ‘address for delivery’.
What’s still the same?
- SARS must inform taxpayers of assessments, notifications or communications issued by also sending a message to the taxpayer’s last known number or email. Keep your contact details updated and check your compliance status regularly, especially when receiving emails or SMSs from SARS.
- Submitting an objection or appeal does not suspend the payment of a tax debt. To prevent SARS from instituting collection proceedings, taxpayers must file an objection as well as a “Request for Suspension of Payment.” If granted, SARS cannot commence collection proceedings pending the outcome of the objection or appeal, but interest will accrue on the unpaid debt.
- The importance of involving a qualified tax advisor early in the process cannot be overstated, especially where penalties and interest have already been imposed, and particularly if the objection is submitted after the prescribed due date.