RSM South Africa

Tax refunds - What you need to know

Most taxpayers are not aware of the requirements for a tax refund to be facilitated and SARS very often will delay paying out the refund. In this article, we will look at the requirements taxpayers need to be aware of and the Tax Ombud’s report on the investigation into alleged delayed payment of refunds as a systemic and emerging issue in terms of section 16 (1) (b) of The Tax Administration Act No. 28 of 2011 (TAA).

What you need to know as a taxpayer:

  • The tax refund must be claimed within 5 years from date of submission of the return.
  • SARS has the right to withhold the refund as per section 190 (2) of TAA: “SARS need not authorise a refund as referred to in subsection (1) until such time that a verification, inspection or audit of the refund in accordance with Chapter 5 has been finalised.”
  • Authorisation of payment of refund done once SARS is satisfied with the acceptable security provided by the taxpayer in terms of section 190 (3) of TAA: “SARS must authorise the payment of a refund before the finalisation of the verification, inspection or audit if security in a form acceptable to a senior SARS official is provided by the taxpayer.”
  • As a taxpayer, you need to ensure that you verify your banking details with SARS and that there are no outstanding returns in order for your refund not to be delayed.
  • Any decision not to refund by SARS is subject to an objection and appeal by the taxpayer in terms of section 190 (6) of TAA.
  • Refunds less than R100 are not refunded but carried forward to the next tax period.
  • To view the status of your refund you can use the Refund Dashboard on efiling under the ‘Returns History’ tab for the tax period in question or contact the SARS call centre.
  • Interest starts accruing from 21 business days from the date on which the refund became due, i.e. verification/audit outcome finalised

Tax Ombud’s Report

The Tax Ombud’s report identified various mechanisms used by SARS to defer or delay the payment of refunds due:

  • SARS failing to link submitted supporting documents at a SARS branch to the main file.
  • The use of special stoppers on taxpayers’ accounts and the delay in lifting the stoppers, e.g. being required to verify banking details in person at a SARS branch. Even after the verification is done, there is still a lengthy delay in paying the refund.
  • Using the filing of new returns as an excuse to block refunds. The system blocks already verified refunds the moment a subsequent return is submitted by the taxpayer.
  • Withholding of refunds for one period while an audit/verification is in progress on another period. This is contrary to section 190 of the TAA.
  • The use of historic returns suddenly reflecting as outstanding but these have never been shown as outstanding on the Tax Clearance Certificate or the Statement of Account.
  • The raising of assessments and passing of journals to absorb credits on taxpayers’ accounts, i.e. overpayments. In doing so, SARS creates fictious tax liabilities instead of making a decision on the refund.
  • Requesting further information during the audit to delay finalisation, thus delaying the time frame from when the interest accrues.
  • No turnaround time for assessments successfully disputed.
  • Obstacles regarding diesel refunds.
  • Raising of assessments prematurely before the 21 days to submit the supporting documents
  • Refunds for periods that have been verified automatically set-off against bad debts on other periods not withstanding a request for suspension or where there is the suspension of payment. SARS may not instate any collection steps from date of submission of request for suspension of payment until 10 days after decision to not grant the request has been communicated to the taxpayer in terms of section 164 (6).

You are able to object/dispute any SARS decision not to release the refund on efiling or through your tax practitioner.

Maselaelo Mphela

Corporate Tax Compliance Officer, Johannesburg