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SA Revenue Services (Sars) first introduced electronic filing of tax returns in July 2001. It appointed five intermediary service providers, who provided the service to businesses and individuals and charged them a monthly fee. But Sars has recently rebranded this facility under its own label and is now offering the service free to encourage people to use it.

E-filing speeds up turnaround time for taxpayers, reduces the risk of transcription errors, and online returns can be submitted and payments initiated, at any time, says Martin Nangoro, assistant GM of business systems at Sars.

"And with certain payments, like VAT, taxpayers get an additional window of about three days because they can pay on the last business day of the month and continue to earn interest on the money." He says payment reminders are delivered electronically.

Confidentiality was an important factor, because in some states in the US, revenue departments allow them to use some taxpayer information for marketing purposes.

By the time the intermediaries’ contracts were due for renewal in August this year, only 72,000, or 2%, of registered taxpayers that could possibly take up the service had done so, so Sars looked at successful models in other parts of the world, including France, where revenue services had branded its own e-filing service and outsourced the running to a third party.

Sars decided to adopt a similar model. It rebranded the service under its own name and outsourced it to a consortium made up of the three remaining intermediaries. The other two dropped out during the two-year contract period.

"Each of the intermediaries had different value-added service offerings, so we combined the three into one to get the best result."

Sars is aiming to have converted 10% or more of the potential registered taxpayer base, or 150,000 individuals and businesses to e-filing by this time next year, says Nangoro.

He says since launching the rebranded service in September, the e-filing base has increased from 72,000 to 82,000."By making the service free we are getting more submissions and a steady flow of registrations, and we are now promoting it."

Sars has established direct links with First National, Standard and Absa, and is developing a link with Nedbank. This makes it easy for taxpayers to make payments online, says Nangoro.

Business Daily