Filing a tax return can be confusing and time consuming, particularly if you have more than one source of income or are eligible for several deductions.
As frustrating as bureaucracy can sometimes be, expressing your irritation to anyone at SARS will probably not get you far. If any issues arise, it’s best to contact SARS professionally in writing so that your discussion is recorded and can be referenced.
If you wish to relieve yourself of the burden of filing a tax return, it’s worth seeking professional assistance. Although you will need to pay a fee for the services of a tax practitioner, it can actually work out cheaper than having an entire claim disallowed or being issued with a penalty for an incorrect claim. Furthermore, the fees are likely to be deductible against your taxable interest.
Registered tax practitioners
If you do decide to seek support in submitting your tax return, it’s important to only hire an accredited tax practitioner who is registered with SARS. They should also be registered with an approved controlling body, such as the South African Institute of Tax Professionals, as a controlling body ensures that members are up-to-date with their personal taxes, don’t have criminal records, and have the necessary qualifications to accurately file other people’s taxes.
It is your responsibility as a taxpayer to ensure that any tax practitioner you use is accredited and registered. Only a registered practitioner can legally complete a return on your behalf (you will need to sign a power of attorney form), as well as maintain your details and register you for new taxes.
If you get audited, the tax practitioner should also be able to handle the audit on your behalf. This is often just a matter of submitting supporting documents to SARS, which they will already have. Be sure to choose a professional who you feel confident will be there for you if you have any trouble with SARS at a later date. Someone with an office number and an office address, as well as an online presence, will likely be your best bet in this regard.
It’s advisable to do your research before choosing a practitioner, as a bad one could end up costing you a lot more than just their fee. Before deciding who to use, ask them some questions. Firstly, find out if they are registered with SARS and with which controlling body. If they are registered, they will have a SARS practitioner number, as well as a membership number with their controlling body.
Every tax return is different so it is best to make sure your practitioner has experience dealing with something similar to your particular situation. If you have a basic return with only an IRP5, then most tax practitioners should be able to file it easily. However, If you have investments or earn rental income, then your tax return may be a bit more complicated and require more expertise.
A good practitioner is likely to ask you some questions in order to gain an understanding of your personal tax situation. Your answers will enable them to inform you what documents you will need to submit, so that you can avoid doing things piecemeal, which could delay the filing of your return and your tax refund.
Do also be aware that good tax professionals usually file their clients’ returns electronically, either using SARS’ e-Filing system or specialised tax software. Filing returns electronically rather than manually is much quicker (so you will get your money much quicker if you are due a refund), and it also minimises room for human error.
Rather than asking a practitioner what their fees are, ask how they calculates their fees. The fee is likely be based on the complexity of your tax return and how long it will take to file it.
It’s important to not agree to a contingency fee, which is when a practitioner calculates their fee based on a percentage of your tax refund. Do note that this practice is prohibited, as it is argued that it encourages practitioners to try to claim more money than is actually due — be that through under-declaration of income or inflated deductions.