New Sars ruling leaves taxpayers outside SA with a major headache

Sars has blocked tax practitioners from updating identification and eFiling security details. Picture: Henk Kruger Independent Newspapers.

Sars has blocked tax practitioners from updating identification and eFiling security details. Picture: Henk Kruger Independent Newspapers.

Published May 19, 2024


By William Louw

UNTIL recently, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) allowed a tax practitioner to update the identification and eFiling security details of a taxpayer in exceptional circumstances. However, this has now been blocked by Sars.

In the past, Sars would let a tax practitioner set up a video meeting and update their client’s security details. However, Sars now says this can no longer happen. Currently, to set up a video call or meeting with Sars, Sars requires the taxpayer themselves to validate their eFiling profile by confirming that their security details are correct.

Sars will not allow one to set up a meeting if the contact details of the taxpayer on the Sars records are no longer valid. Then, the taxpayer only has the option of coming to a Sars office.

Usually, when people set up their eFiling profile on the Sars system, they use their mobile number or work email address. This is not an issue if when they are in South Africa, but once they leave the county, those mobile numbers are cancelled, or they no longer have access to their former job’s email address, resulting in their not having access to their eFiling.

Sars keeps cellphone numbers on record, which could be problematic as cellphone numbers are recycled. This could lead to a major security risk, as the person with the recycled number could possibly hack into the taxpayer’s eFiling account.

Sars’ current system is then blocking the taxpayer from removing this hacking risk. One has to ask who is liable where a taxpayer has attempted to remove access (and can prove this in court), but Sars will not allow them to do so.

Walk-ins are impractical and expensive

Walk-ins are an issue for South Africans living outside of South Africa, and for local taxpayers who for various reasons cannot physically come into the Sars offices. It is impractical for a tax practitioner to do walk-ins on behalf of a client. Video appointments are more convenient, as this can be done from the practitioner’s office. Sars should allow a tax practitioner to act on behalf of a taxpayer. Sars’ request for a walk-in from tax practitioners could result in higher consulting fees for the taxpayer.

Note that recently some Sars offices are no longer allowing a tax practitioner, who has all the correct forms, to do this. As such, it is therefore impossible for a taxpayer to amend their details if this is enforced by Sars.

Distance from Sars offices

Some taxpayers are more than 200km away from a Sars office. What if the taxpayer is in hospital or prison? What about those who are medically boarded? These groups have now been blocked from using the assistance of a tax practitioner.

International taxpayers

If a taxpayer is overseas, he/she has to fly back to South Africa or the tax practitioner has to physically walk into the Sars office to do the meeting, on his/her behalf. However, should either taxpayer be able to set up a Sars virtual meeting, there are also the following issues which could be a problem: some foreign jurisdictions do not allow video calls outside of business use (Middle East regions). For private video calls, you would have to use WhatsApp or Botim, and I believe certain countries have viewing/recording rights on these. You would also have to consider international time zones – individuals in New Zealand or Canada could have a 11-hour time difference.

Solutions to the problem suggested to Sars

It is vital that Sars allows tax practitioners to assist in exceptional circumstances. All that is required is a photo of the taxpayer with their identification information, and a photo of the taxpayer with a form/letter stating clearly: the identity of the tax practitioner assisting; the new details to be updated; and the reason they are unable to attend or set up a meeting in person.

Other supporting documents that would aid in streamlining the process could include:

  • A clear copy of the above form to confirm the change (as photos could be unclear)
  • Proof of address abroad (for non-residents)
  • Proof of tax registration abroad (if in a DTA country) – so Sars can verify with the other tax office that they reside there should they wish to. Note that not all foreign countries have a tax office so this cannot be made compulsory.

Sars Power of Attorney (A new revised one which can only be used for security and identity updates.) This is very specific.

  • Proof of address for the tax practitioner
  • This must be completed by the tax practitioner over a video call.

Considerations for South Africans when leaving the county

When leaving the country, South Africans need to make sure their eFiling security details are updated and correct. They should update their eFiling security details while they still have access to their old cellphone number/work email address, or whatever their authentication used when setting up their eFiling account – otherwise they would be locked out. This would be relevant to anyone with a South African tax number.

As a precaution, it is recommended that anyone who leaves South Africa keeps their South African ID in a safe place. If they need anything from South Africa, they will be unable to do anything in South Africa without their ID, and applying for a new South African ID after leaving the country could take up to 12 months.

* Louw is the director of Professional Tax Practitioner (SA) at Sable International.