Generally, disputes with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) are the result of an assessment which has been issued by SARS to a taxpayer. An assessment is the determination of an amount of a tax liability or refund, by way of self-assessment by the taxpayer (such as in the case of VAT) or assessment by SARS (such as in the case of income tax). If taxpayers are not satisfied with an assessment, the Tax Administration Act provides for dispute resolution mechanisms, in terms of which taxpayers can object to the assessment, and subsequently appeal, if objections are not maintained.
Although objection to an assessment is the correct procedure to dispute a tax amount, taxpayers often lodge objections against assessments, without knowing exactly what they are objecting to. This could seriously jeopardise a taxpayer’s case, since taxpayers may not appeal on a ground that constitutes a new objection against a disputed assessment. If a valid ground of objection is therefore not addressed in the objection itself, taxpayers may lose the opportunity to object to a specific ground.
For example: when an assessment is raised by SARS because “expenses are not allowed as a deduction” it could be as a result of, among others, the following:
- SARS considers the taxpayer not to carry on a trade;
- SARS considers the expense not to have been incurred in the production of income;
- SARS considers the expense not to have been actually incurred; or
- SARS considers the expense to be of a capital nature.
Without having reasons for the assessment, the taxpayer cannot properly formulate its grounds of objection and may, therefore, find itself in a position where the real grounds for the assessment, may not be challenged on appeal.
In terms of Rule 6 of the dispute resolution rules, a taxpayer who is aggrieved by an assessment may request that SARS provide reasons for an assessment. The reasons provided by SARS must enable the taxpayer to formulate its grounds of objection. The reasons for any administrative action must include the reasons for the conclusion reached, and it is not enough to merely state the statutory grounds on which the decision is based or repeat the wording of the legislation. The decision-maker should furthermore set out his understanding of the relevant law.
A request for reasons for an assessment must be made within 30 business days from the date of assessment. Taxpayers (and their practitioners) are therefore encouraged to consider assessments as soon as they are issued by SARS. If there is any doubt as to why the assessment has been issued, a formal request for reasons should be issued without delay.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)