Our country is enduring the most difficult period in its history. As President Cyril Ramaphosa aptly reminded us on Wednesday 17 June: “For 100 days we have been living in the shadow of one of the greatest threats to global health in over 100 years.”

The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our country, with many infected, over 2000 lives lost and has placed severe demands on our health system. The necessary lockdown to save lives, has brought our economy to a standstill, triggering job losses, businesses rescues and brought into a sharp focus the disturbing state of poverty and inequality in our country.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has continued to play its critical revenue collection role working relentlessly to ensure that our government continues to fund the many health workers who place their lives at risk in fighting this virus, alongside other thousands of frontline workers and public servants. Consequently, our country has faced the unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment, medical supplies, food and other financial relief to the poorest and most vulnerable among us, as well as the tax measures meant to provide relief to businesses in distress and save as many jobs as possible. We have also continued to pay refunds to companies and individuals to help them cope with their financial woes.

During this critical moment, SARS has embarked on the journey to reimagine how to provide the efficient and effective service to all our taxpayers while improving compliance levels. These trying times have imposed the challenge on the organization of providing a seamless and effortless service to taxpayers while protecting our own employees and taxpayers from infection. Among the many innovations that have been implemented under the lockdown, is a service through which taxpayers who register for eFiling can obtain a taxpayer number. We also introduced one seamless filing season, which started on 15 April through August 2020, to ensure Employers are compliant and third party information is submitted, ahead of individual taxpayers submitting their returns.

The first phase of Filing Season 2020 was allocated to employers and other third-party data providers like medical schemes, retirement annuity funds and banks. During this phase, these third-party data providers had to file their data to SARS on or before 31 May 2020. The majority did so successfully, but there are those who failed in their duty, making it exceedingly difficult for SARS to assess their employees and other taxpayers affected by this non-compliance.

The next phase has now commenced, during which SARS will be validating the third-party data, and following up on employers and others who failed in their duty to file their data to SARS on time. It is a criminal offence to deduct employees’ tax (PAYE) from employees but not pay it over to SARS. It is also a criminal offence to fail to submit a return to SARS when required to do so. But above all, failures of this nature have a significant impact on affected taxpayers to meet their tax obligations.

The third phase of Filing Season 2020 opens on 1 August 2020. On that day, a significant number of taxpayers can expect to receive a sms that SARS has prepared their tax returns for them, and that a draft assessment is available on eFiling or Mobiapp to consider. For those that accept the draft assessment, there will be no need to complete and file a tax return, and if a refund is due, the refund will follow within the 1st week of August. We refer to this as the “auto-assessment” process.

A taxpayer will be eligible for auto-assessment if their respective third-party data providers have filed all third-party data in respect of that taxpayer. Taxpayers who, for example, have not yet received their IPR5 certificates are advised to immediately approach their employers and insist that the IPR5’s are issued to them. During August, taxpayers who have not yet been auto-assessed but in respect of whom a complete set of third-party data has subsequently become available, will be invited by SARS to file early.

The fourth phase of filing Season 2020 starts on 1 September 2020. Taxpayers who have not been auto-assessed, or who have not accepted an auto-assessment, can then start to file via eFiling or MobiApp. Taxpayers who cannot file through any of our digital platforms will be permitted to visit a SARS branch by appointment only.

SARS encourages all taxpayers to continue to use the ever-evolving digital channels in order to transact with SARS. As stated by Commissioner Kieswetter, “During the time when our country is still battling the scourge of COVID-19, we hope taxpayers will take advantage of these innovations aimed at making it easier and faster for taxpayers to comply with their tax obligations.”