Tax isn’t the easiest of subjects to navigate. Besides the long list of legalese to master, there’s the fact that tax legislation evolves year on year. What was applicable on your tax return 2 or 3 years ago, isn’t necessarily valid on your next, and what’s right this year, may change next season.
It’s unsurprising then, that when faced with the daunting task of filing their annual tax return, many people turn to a friend, colleague or trusted broker to help them out, in the hope that they’re more proficient. And while it may be safe to do so for advice on, say, an alternative medical aid option or a good restaurant for a good dinner, when it comes to tax, this can have serious legal consequences (for both parties) if things go wrong.
In July 2013 SARS took a firm stance on who was legally allowed to file tax returns on behalf of others and introduced stricter requirements for tax practitioner registration. Effectively this means that if anyone other than a Registered Tax Practitioner is filing your tax return on your behalf, the act is deemed illegal.
Requirements to be a Registered Tax Practitioner
Practitioners need to first be registered with a SARS approved controlling body before applying for a SARS practitioner number.
The controlling bodies confirm that the practitioner has the necessary skills and qualifications to file other people’s taxes correctly. They also ensure the practitioner participates in continuous professional development programmes in order to keep up to date with tax legislation.
SARS approved controlling bodies include:
A Law Society
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
Chartered Secretaries Southern Africa (CSSA)
General Council of the Bar of South Africa
Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA)
Institute of Accounting and Commerce (IAC)
SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA)
SA Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)
SA Institute of Tax Practitioners (SAIT)
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
Association of Accounting Technicians Southern Africa (AAT(SA))
If they’re registered correctly, they’ll have both a membership number with a controlling body and a SARS practitioner number. You can verify that your Tax Practitioner is registered with SARS here. All you need is their Tax Practitioner number (PR-XXXXXXX) and SARS will instantly confirm their registration status.
Why Use a Registered Tax Practitioner to File Your Tax Return?
It’s a legal requirement to do so!
A Registered Tax Practitioner should be properly qualified to complete your tax return and therefore claim all deductions applicable to you. Leaving out some expenses or claiming incorrectly, can cost you dearly in the long run.
A Registered Tax Practitioner’s behaviour will be governed by their controlling body’s code of ethics and conduct. There’ve been cases where “fly by night” practitioners guarantee you a refund (and may even base their fee on a percentage of your refund) but they achieve this by submitting fraudulent claims. Avoid these types of practitioners at all costs. If you're suspicious of their actions, rather check their registration status with SARS. (Note: No-one, not even a Registered Tax Practitioner, should make guarantees that you will absolutely receive a refund. Refunds are only applicable if you’ve overpaid on tax, once all your available and permitted deductions have been calculated. Everyone’s tax situation is different and a refund can’t be 100% assured for each and every submission.)
SARS allows you to report unprofessional conduct of a Registered Tax Practitioner, which in turn will lodge a formal complaint with the relevant controlling body for investigation.
If you don’t use a Registered Tax Practitioner to submit your tax return - besides breaking the law – you’ll have no recourse whatsoever if that person behaves negligently or unethically!
If you have an issue with your tax assessment and you need to make contact with SARS, your Tax Practitioner can make the process far more efficient (and less painful!) by making an appointment directly with a SARS consultant on your behalf. If you don’t use a Registered Tax Practitioner, you’ll be on your own in the long queues at SARS when it comes to resolving your issue.