Tax Ombud on a mission to fight for taxpayers

Not many people know about the office of the Tax Ombud
Not many people know about the office of the Tax Ombud
Image: 123RF/Aleksandra Gigowska

Not many people know about the office of the Tax Ombud as much as they do about the public protector or the SA Human Rights Commission.

This is the reason the country's Tax Ombud, retired judge Bernard Ngoepe, went on a major roadshow drive in Limpopo this week to educate people about the role of his office and how it assists taxpayers.

The Office of the Tax Ombud was established in October 2013 through the Tax Administration Act.

Its role is to enhance the tax administration system and work with taxpayers who have been unable to resolve a service, procedural or administrative complaint through the normal complaints management channels of the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

The Tax Ombud is appointed by the minister of finance and reports directly to him.

"My impression is that people don't know about this office, which is why we decided to come here, not only people in Polokwane, but people in many parts of the country. It is sad sometimes to see people or a facility being used only by, for example, people living in Gauteng whereas it is a facility for everybody in the country," Ngoepe told Sowetan.

He said that the public needs to know that his office is by no way a part of Sars.

"We are completely independent of Sars and, in fact, we are some kind of a watchdog over Sars," he said.

Ngoepe will engage with an audience comprising ordinary citizens, business people and tax practitioners in a dialogue session in Polokwane today as part of his mission to popularise his office.

The Tax Ombud's office, which is based in Pretoria, fields complaints from citizens through telephonic, online and walk-in enquiries.

Ngoepe says he hopes in future they will have offices in other provinces in order to be more accessible to the public.

The office turns six in October and Ngoepe believes its work has been phenomenal. "Other people may have different ideas, but from my personal point of view, based on the interaction that we had with taxpayers and professional bodies, we're working hard.

"And based also on the feedback that we received from them bearing in mind also the number of complaints that are forever increasing, all those are testimony to the fact that the office is really functioning well," Ngoepe said.

He said the office receives a variety of complaints from taxpayers.

"They may not be important people but to somebody they are. They range from frustrations people get from branch offices. They range from cases where perhaps taxpayers complain about Sars demanding documents they have been supplying time and gain.

"And they go up to instances where companies complain about delay in the refunds of their tax and so on. So it's a variety of complaints," Ngoepe said.

Each complaint is treated with urgency and respect by the office, which has a staff of 45 and, said Ngoepe, the office always strives for a timeous turnaround time for each query.

"We have got our very own time frame with turnaround times we have set ourselves. What I can tell you is that at the maximum you will hear from us within 15 days of your lodging the complaint with us."

Ngoepe said bear in mind though that once a complaint is processed, they have to engage Sars, which in turn is supposed to come back to the Tax Ombud within certain time frames.

Ngoepe said it's important that the public use the Tax Ombud's services to fight for their rights with regards to tax issues.

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