How to negotiate with SARS

If you want peace, prepare for war, goes the ancient adage. This is certainly a maxim to live by when it comes to negotiating with SARS.

Two cases I covered recently are worth another mention. In one, the taxpayer had a valid objection, but his lawyer submitted it some months after the cut-off date. In the other, a mistake on a tax return caused SARS to levy a very large penalty. The taxpayer’s accountant was at fault.

Accountants and lawyers are generally people whom we can depend on, but anyone can make a mistake. All the same, when one makes a serious error with tax, the results can be extremely expensive. And the fact is that there are deadlines and certain standards relating to accuracy that taxpayers must abide by.

Legally, the fault always lies with the taxpayer, who must prove otherwise. In some instances, though, such as the above Tax Court case, the fault of the accountant can be a mitigating factor in a revision of penalties.

Although many businesspeople rely heavily on their accounting professionals for all tax-related affairs, it is highly recommended that a separate paper-based file is kept, so that dates of assessment can be readily ascertained. This is important, as the time limits for lodging objections are based on the dates of assessment.

In addition, as I have noted before, the e-filing facility for the lodging of objections can give trouble. Certainly, if one has to use a temporary code for lodging, as is the case when an attorney or outside tax practitioner lodges the objection, the filing might not work online. So if one has left things late or has taken the time to get good advice and then submits the objection, things can go awry at the last minute.

SARS might also refuse to accept the objection due to a perceived lack of correct authority. In such an instance, the reason for non-acceptance, the name of the SARS staffer who refused to accept the objection, and the time and date must be recorded, because if the objection is late, an affidavit supporting an application for condonation of late filing must be submitted.

If the problems are related to the Internet, take a ‘screen shot’ (the ‘Print Scrn’ button on your keyboard; or use your phone)
of the e-filing non-acceptance screen and record the date.

An absence of sufficient evidence when applying for condonation of late filing might see the condonation refused. The ‘unwanted’ SARS assessment then becomes fixed and cannot be contested.

The best remedy is to be well-prepared.

That way, as the Latin maxim has it, one will have peace.