If early indications are anything to go by, South Africa’s new tax ombudsman is going to have his hands full.
Although only officially launched by finance minister Pravin Gordhan last month, the office of the South African tax ombud has been at work since October last year. It has since been approached by more than 670 taxpayers for assistance.
“This includes not only complaints, but also questions about the process of lodging a complaint and other related uncertainties,” explains tax ombud chief executive Eric Mkhawane.
At the helm of the ombud’s office is retired judge Bernard Ngoepe who, along with a team of experts, is dealing with legitimate complaints by taxpayers.
This includes any grievances relating to administrative issues, poor service and procedural matters that cannot be resolved through the South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) usual internal mechanisms.
The ombud’s office also facilitates access to a complaint resolution process and guides taxpayers according to the process that needs to be followed.
The tax ombud may, however, not address any legislative or policy issues.
Says Mkhawane: “We cannot get involved in matters before court. Of the 673 queries we received, 61 fell within our mandate and we were able to finalise 70% of them. The remaining complaints are still within our turnaround time-frame and we are in the process of finalising them.”
He says the ombud’s office aims to deal with a complaint within 15 days upon receiving the necessary supporting documentation.
“There are however situations where this period is not sufficient, but we will inform the taxpayers when this is the case and provide them with regular feedback about the process,” says Mkhwanane.
To date, taxpayers who have made use of the ombud’s services include individual taxpayers as well as business owners. The complaints cover a wide range of issues from not having received tax refunds to the correct Sars processes not having been followed.
Spokeswoman for the National Treasury, Phumza Macanda, says taxpayers can lodge a complaint with the tax ombud once they have followed Sars’s complaint procedures, which includes first contacting Sars directly through a branch or through the Sars contact centre.
“If the desired outcome is not reached, the matter should then be escalated to the Sars Service Monitoring Office,” says Macanda.
However, Mkhwanane says there are some cases with compelling circumstances that allow taxpayers to contact the ombud’s office directly before going through these processes.
“This will only be in case of an emergency when time is of the essence and going through the internal process first could negatively impact the taxpayer,” he points out.
The first step to lodging a complaint is to supply the tax ombud’s office with the necessary supporting documents.
Those business owners interested in lodging a complaint with the ombud need to fill in a complaint form, which can either be found on the tax ombud’s website, or which can be faxed or sent via email on request.
As well as the necessary supporting documentation, complainants must also provide their contact details and information on the complaint.
Mkhawane believes that now that the tax ombud has officially been launched, the number of complaints will increase.
“Recently Judge Ngoepe was interviewed on a radio and soon afterwards, we saw a spike in complaints.
The more people know about the service, the more they will make use of it,” says Mkhawane.