South Africa

SARS backtracks on legal threats to taxpayers

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has apologised for legal threats that caused an outcry among taxpayers.

Earlier this week, SARS sent many taxpayers SMSs threatening them with criminal prosecution if they did not file their tax returns.

“You failed to submit your company income tax returns […] Failure to submit the returns is a criminal offence in terms of section 234, (2)(d) of TAA,” SARS said.

“To avoid more administration penalties being levied against you, kindly submit all the outstanding returns within 10 days of this SMS.”

“Should you fail to submit the returns, we will initiate the criminal process and send you a notice of intention to summons.”

This threatening SMS caused a backlash among many taxpayers who did not appreciate being treated like criminals by the tax authority.

SARS responded to the outcry by apologising for the SMS campaign, saying it fell short of the high professional standard they seek to uphold.

The taxman said it strived to clarify and remind taxpayers of their legal obligation and the potential consequences should they not comply.

SARS has a legal mandate to act against taxpayers who fail to comply. However, it is expected that taxpayers will first be reminded to comply before legal action is taken.

“The SMS message that was sent out earlier this week, in relation to outstanding returns, fell short of the high professional standard we seek to uphold,” SARS said.

“SARS, therefore, sincerely apologises for the manner in which this matter was handled, the frustration it may have caused honest taxpayers, and any inconvenience caused.”

It added that the message was meant as a genuine and helpful reminder to taxpayers to file tax returns due and fulfil their legal filing obligation.

“Most taxpayers are honest and ordinarily appreciate such reminders. Honest taxpayers should not feel threatened by SARS,” it said. “The way the message was crafted had this effect.”

“The message regrettably refers to possible prosecution of taxpayers for their failure to file their returns as they are legally obligated to do.”

Following the SMS debacle, it had put the campaign on hold. SARS said it will engage with taxpayers concerning outstanding returns at the appropriate time.

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