According to SARS statistics: The 2017 tax season saw 1.6million taxpayers filing tax returns at SARS branches even though they were not required to do so, from 1.8million in 2016. 868,562 taxpayers who are registered eFilers visited branches to file returns even though they could do this online, dropping from 935,269 in 2016. 120,000 tax practitioners visited SARS branches to eFile on behalf of clients (2016:132,000). Employers can register new job-seekers electronically via e@syFile, but still many of these flock to SARS to register manually. A whopping 1 million old returns were filed during 2016, with the number coming down to 733,000 in 2017.

In response to this overwhelming strain on its resources, SARS has shortened the 2018 tax period by 3 weeks. The tax season will start on 1 July and end on 31 October for non-provisional taxpayers. SARS says this will allow them to deal with audits and verifications before the December holiday break. This is also because taxpayers will be unable to attend to any requests send by SARS during the December period, resulting in a technical non-compliance which often results in taxpayers filing objections with SARS. This leads to further traffic in the SARS system.

Non-provisional taxpayers are individuals who earn a salary and do not have any additional income, for example, rental income, interest or any other income. Manual returns will have to be filed by 21 September.

In order to ease the traffic during tax-season, SARS says they have sent direct communication to taxpayers who might not need to file a return informing them of this. However, it is prudent to get a tax practitioner’s opinion before choosing not to file a return as some of these letters have been followed up by letters to disregard the initial directive. It is noteworthy that year-on-year, taxpayer circumstances may change and thus require one to file a return in order to comply.

SARS also promised that verification letters would be more specific; which will make it much easier for taxpayers and tax practitioners. This move will ease tax season headaches as SARS can send two or three verification letters, making it difficult for the taxpayer to understand what exactly SARS wants from them in order to comply.

Provisional taxpayers, however, will have until January 31, 2019, to file their returns.

Well, the goalposts have shifted and we will all have to redirect our aim so that we don’t miss out. The trend has been that most taxpayers procrastinate until the last minute to file returns or send the necessary documents to their tax practitioners and this may result in the late filing of returns, and SARS will not hesitate to charge interest and penalties.