The Tax Administration Act provides for the audit and verification of taxpayers’ tax returns for all taxes administered by the Commissioner for the South African Revenue Service (SARS). In many instances, such requests for information are general, boiler-plate letters received by taxpayers, not indicating specifically what additional information SARS requires in the circumstances and which supporting documents must be provided. In recent times, in respect of both income tax and value-added tax, SARS has taken an arbitrary approach in issuing additional assessments based on information provided by taxpayers in response to the inadequate (or vague at best) requests for information.
Many taxpayers (who are natural persons) have recently received a request from SARS in which they list the bank accounts that are registered in the name of the taxpayer, as well as a summary of the total number of credits (deposits) made into these respective bank accounts. SARS then requests the taxpayer to explain why those credit amounts should not all be included in the taxpayer’s taxable income. This is a highly arbitrary approach followed by SARS in accepting that all deposits made into a taxpayer’s bank account constitutes income. There can, of course, be multiple other reasons for such deposits, including donations between spouses, receipt of gifts, loan funding received, prize winnings, transfers between the taxpayer’s own accounts, transfers out of bond accounts into current accounts, et cetera. This approach displays a lack of understanding regarding commercial realities and places the taxpayer on the back foot: having to discharge the onus of amounts that should not be classified as income.
Arguably, no VAT vendor in South Africa has escaped frustration from the administration of the VAT system, particularly as it relates to the verification of VAT returns. A practice that has recently emerged is that if one or two pieces of supporting documents provided to SARS does not meet the requirements of a valid tax invoice, SARS immediately, and without further inquiry, disallows all input VAT claimed by a taxpayer during the relevant tax period. This is a highly invasive approach in which SARS accepts that none of the goods and services received by a vendor during that period is valid, or that they lack supporting documents. Unless SARS is specific in their requests, a taxpayer cannot identify the information that should be provided to them. The blanket disallowance of all input VAT is an irrational practice that should be addressed at the appropriate level.
The examples above merely illustrate some of the arbitrary practices that taxpayers have recently been confronted with – as such, taxpayers are advised to carefully navigate the dispute resolution process, since providing SARS with incorrect information, or making incorrect statements in their correspondence with the revenue authority, may lead to severe prejudice as a result of these unacceptable practices.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)