Take your time to check your return before you accept an auto-assessment from Sars. Picture: 123RF/ADIRUCH
Take your time to check your return before you accept an auto-assessment from Sars. Picture: 123RF/ADIRUCH

More than 330,000 taxpayers out of 3- million to whom Sars has sent an SMS to notify them of the auto-assessment of their tax have already accepted these assessments.

The tax authority confirmed this on Friday, just a week after it started sending the auto-assessments out. 

If you have been sent such an SMS, you can accept the assessment and submit your pre-populated return on the MobiApp or e-filing platform, but before you do, be sure that Sars has all the correct information. While Sars is making it easy for you to click accept and submit the pre-populated return, be careful not to be too quick to submit — even if it looks like you are owed a tempting refund.

Check your assessment completely before submitting your return, Lisa Griffiths, financial planner with BDO, says. The Income Tax Act makes it very clear that it is your responsibility as a taxpayer to make a full and complete submission.

Before agreeing to the auto-assessment, you need to be sure that all your income and deductions are recorded: did you, for example, earn rental income or freelance income that is not recorded; or have you incurred expenses you want to claim that Sars is not aware of.

Griffiths says that as it is very tricky to check your figures from the assessment, it is best to choose “Edit Return”, which will take you to the familiar “Returns Issued” page on eFiling or the MobiApp. If the auto-assessment is not correct, you can edit your return on the eFiling site or the MobiApp. You can then use the online tax calculator to work out how Sars will assess your tax.

Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter says eight out of 10 taxpayers will get an assessment in less than three seconds and seven out of 10 due a refund should get the money within 72 hours.

The wheels of Sars turn slowly, but thoroughly, and you should not think you can hide income from Sars

Griffiths says early indications are that taxpayers who have travel allowances, make tax deductible donations, or who have medical expenses over and above those that are reflected on their medical scheme certificates, should definitely not accept the auto-assessments. If you accept the auto-assessment then realise you omitted to claim a deduction, you can use the “Request Correction” facility on efiling or the MobiApp and resubmit the return with the full information.

If your auto-assessment does not include some income you have earned, you may think that accepting it means Sars is unlikely to find out about that income. Griffiths says she would definitely not recommend accepting the incorrect assessment in such a case.

The Income Tax Act, and decades of court cases, make it very clear that the burden of a full declaration is on you, the taxpayer, she says. Also, the wheels of Sars turn slowly, but thoroughly, and you should not think you can hide income from Sars.

Kieswetter told a Sars briefing last week that some taxpayers who had already submitted returns attempted to defraud Sars by claiming rental or business losses and disability expenses.

More than 11% of the returns submitted are being subjected to an audit. This is where Sars requests documents to prove your claims. Kieswetter says Sars has significantly stepped up its ability to detect fraud, so you should not expect to get away with putting in any false deductions or under-declaring your income.

The revenue service uses a broad variety of data from financial institutions, the vehicle register, population register, companies register and other asset registers, and is increasingly broadening these sources of data to ensure it gets the right amount of tax from you, he says. Sars also gets information about South Africans who have money offshore through an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development programme, he says.

Kieswetter says Sars really wants you to fill in your return in the comfort of your own home and has trained 1,000 agents to take your calls and guide you through the return if you get stuck.

One thing that may hold up your return is if your employer has not filed your salary information with Sars. Only 57% of employers have done so. Sars may issue you with an auto-assessment then receive an update or correction from your employer or any other source from which it receives information.

In this case, your SMS may contain an incorrect assessment, but once you log on to eFiling or the MobiApp, the assessment will be updated.

Ordinary taxpayers will have until November 16 to eFile their returns, while provisional taxpayers will have until January 31 2021.  If you really need to visit a branch you will have to make an appointment and get your return in by October 22.

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