The SA Revenue Service (Sars) will be instituting a two week lockdown of its offices due to concerns over the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The closure, between December 24 and January 4, is intended to curb potential infections among taxpayers and the agency’s staff, Sars said in a statement on Tuesday.

Though the effects of the pandemic have already weighed heavily on revenue collections this year, Sars told Business Day, it does not expect this shutdown to have “any fiscal impact”.

Branches will operate remotely via digital channels and existing in-branch appointments will be honoured, it said.

All new bookings made over the Sars website will be honoured by a virtual appoint over Microsoft Teams or via phone, and the Sars call centre will remain open to assist taxpayers.

All SA border posts manned by Sars customs officials will also operate during this lockdown period, it said, with strict social-distancing and hygiene protocols in place.

“We will review this decision and communicate in advance should we decide to extend this arrangement,” the agency said.

The majority of Sars’ revenues between December 24 and January 4 come through its e-channels, in particular VAT, PAYE and provisional company tax payments, Sars head of communications and media Siphithi Sibeko, said in a response to questions.

“We do not foresee any fiscal impact due to the decision to close taxpayer-facing operations while fully servicing taxpayers via online virtual channels,” he said.

In the last three days of the financial year — from March 27 to 31, when lockdown level 5 was activated, Sars was still able to collect more than R50bn via e- channels, as well as processing refunds that were due, Sibeko said.

Last week, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus has been detected in SA and found in hotspot outbreaks in provinces such as the Eastern Cape.

The pandemic’s first wave and the nationwide lockdown earlier in the year has had a devastating effect on revenue collections, intensifying difficulties for SA’s already weak fiscus.

Tax revenues are expected to come in almost R313bn below what was forecast in the 2020 budget.

Update: December 22 2020
This article has been updated with information and comment from Sars.


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