SARS auto assessments create taxing problems

Crucial to double check information filled in on your return

17 September 2020 - 12:13
By Neesa Moodley
You need to go through your return very carefully before you simply click accept on your auto assessment. 
Image: 123RF/IVAN You need to go through your return very carefully before you simply click accept on your auto assessment. 

If you are one of more than three million taxpayers to have received an auto assessment, you need to go through your return very carefully before you simply click accept. 

Non-provisional and provisional taxpayers who submit via eFiling have until November 16 2020 and January 29 2021 respectively to submit returns.

If you have simple tax affairs, your auto assessment may have made your life easier but Doné Howell, director of tax at BDO, says with it being implemented for the first time, there have been plenty of errors. 

The information that you previously would have filled in on your tax return is now being sent directly to SARS by several third party providers and not just your employer. This would now include, for example, your medical scheme tax certificate, your IRP5 from your employer, your retirement annuity (RA) certificate and your interest certificate. This information is then used by SARS to prepopulate your tax return.

The idea is that when you receive an SMS from SARS to say that you have been auto assessed, all you have to do is double-check the information already filled in for you and click “accept”. 

However, since the notices of auto assessments went out via SMS in August, some taxpayers and their practitioners have identified problem areas: 

  • Incorrect information supplied by third parties 

Joon Chong, partner at Webber Wentzel, warns that if any amounts on your third party returns are not correct, you have to contact the relevant third party to amend the information sent to SARS before the taxman will update your auto-assessment.  

Howell says the initial concern is that the end of May was the deadline for the third-party providers to send their data to SARS. 

“Between May and July, it was up to SARS and the third-party providers to reconcile the data. In most instances, the information has been spot-on, but there has then been a discrepancy between the information sent to SARS and the information sent to the taxpayer after July on their certificates,” she says.

This mismatch might be a timing issue or a question of needing to refresh your tax return so that the latest data pulls through, she adds.

  • You cannot change some prepopulated information 

The section showing the interest you earned on savings or investments for the year is prepopulated and you cannot edit this section. 

“For example, we have non-resident taxpayers who were issued interest certificates from their banks and the bank does not indicate whether the taxpayer is a South African resident or not. In these cases, the non-resident taxpayers’ returns have now been prepopulated with South African interest. 

“Neither the tax practitioner nor the taxpayer can reduce that figure or remove it. You are only allowed to increase that amount,” Howell says. This is a problem because typically, interest received by or accrued to a non-resident from a source within South Africa is exempt from normal tax in South Africa. 

  • Insufficient education around auto assessments 

While SARS may have made a fanfare around the new auto-assessment process, in many cases, it was eclipsed by Covid-19 news. The notifications alerting taxpayers that they had been auto assessed were sent directly to the taxpayers in August via SMS. 

“With so many fraudulent scams doing the rounds, many taxpayers either ignored the message or had no idea what to do with it. We had hundreds of irate clients contacting us to query these SMS notifications and they were frustrated that they had been contacted directly, when they have appointed tax practitioners to deal with their tax issues,” Howell says.

At this stage, auto-assessment notifications are only sent directly to taxpayers and not to tax practitioners. 

  • Shortened timelines

The 2020 tax season is considerably shorter this year compared to 2019.

“Given the significantly shortened tax filing season for 2020, you should prepare for submission as early as possible and not wait until the last day to prepare supporting documents, check and submit your returns,” Chong warns. 

Source: SARS
Image: NOLO MOIMA Source: SARS

When to reject an auto assessment 

Chong says you should reject your auto assessment if you: 

  • Have qualifying medical expenses not recorded on the medical scheme certificates where you can claim the additional medical expenses tax credit;
  • Have other revenue streams in the year which need to be declared such as net rental income or losses;
  • Need to submit logbook claims for business kilometres against travel allowances;
  • Have made donations to public benefit organisations which allow you to claim tax deductions; and
  • Have capital gains or losses from disposals of assets in the year which are not recorded in your IT3c certificates.