Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The Sars e-filing season opened on Monday, July 1 to much fanfare about the new, eFiling online system, and while there were some happy online users, there were many who slammed the system for being faulty. 

Despite this, Sars said on Wednesday that in the first two days of e-filing more than half a million people logged on to the site, with just short of 300,000 requesting their returns, and 188,140 people filing their returns.

“Sars is thrilled at the uptake of the digital channels and is working hard to make the experience even simpler,” it said.

On Monday, Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter told 702 and Cape Talk radio listeners that the there were some bandwidth issues on the opening day, while on Twitter — the platform on which much of the angst was aired — Sars communicated with users during the first day, acknowledging faults and promising to fix the system.

On Wednesday, Sars said it was “working on a fix to a particular issue”. The problem the revenue service was referring to was when taxpayers “save their income tax return, and immediately re-open the return and press the tax calculate button before the form has fully rendered”.

Sars admitted that the problem is “aggravated when taxpayers click multiple times as they try to view their return”, and that it was working on fixes that included “greying out” the calculate button while the form is being loaded, and also a measure to limit button clicks to just one.

However, a glance at the complaints on social media revealed that, in addition to the issues around the calculations, users had problems with the one-time pin (OTP) security measure, too. There were also reports of incorrect information populating profiles, as well as missing returns.

“Hi. We are aware that many taxpayers are encountering problems with obtaining their calculation results. We have notified the IT teams and will provide an update as soon as we can regarding resolution,” read a tweet from the official Sars Twitter account on Monday morning.

This was followed by, “Please Note: You should now be able to access all assessments, statements and calculations. We sincerely apologise for the frustrations experienced”; and, “Please Note: The calculation issue should now be resolved. Can you please try again. We sincerely apologise for the frustrations experienced.”

The last official correspondence on the Sars Twitter account referred to downtime to facilitate work to the system: “Intermittent downtime will be experienced from 20:00 to 01:00 on eFiling due to changes implemented to facilitate a better taxpayer experience. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

Anecdotal accounts

One concerned eFiling user approached Money on Tuesday, saying she was unable to access her return. Other anecdotal accounts reported to Money signaled that while there was, indeed, a delay with the calculation of the return estimate, the system, by and large, performed well and their returns were completed.

The unhappiness and technical glitches follow on hot on the heels of Kieswetter saying that Sars could miss its collections target for the sixth consecutive year because of very tight economic conditions.

At a media briefing earlier in June about the opening of tax filing season, Kieswetter said Sars had improved its online filing to make it simpler and more convenient to file an income tax return. It would therefore appear to be in Sars’ interest to fix the bugs sooner rather than later.

While many ridiculed and slammed the taxman, others were honest about being able to complete their returns, and at least one user, SA chef Lesego Semenya, saw the funny side.

Below are some tweets from the opening two days of the filing season.