Urgent Alarm at Sars' bank account grab

By bronwynnewman, 7 July, 2010

The SA Revenue Service (Sars) needs to set out clear guidelines on how it will take money it is owed out of people's bank accounts, a tax specialist said on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Income Tax Act which regulates when Sars can do this: whether it is after the first, second, or third notification that you owe tax." This is where the concern lies, said Ernst & Young tax director Vedika Andhee.

Although the Income Tax Act allowed Sars to recoup money owed in this way, Andhee said there were no regulations on how many notices had to be issued first, whether the client first had to be e-mailed or telephoned, or even whether it had been confirmed that the e-mail and telephone numbers used were up to date.

Without being forewarned, clients could find money had been taken by Sars only when they next attempted to withdraw money from their bank account, she said.

This meant that debit orders and other financial commitments would bounce if there was not enough money in the account to cover the tax liability.

The person would also not have the opportunity to contest the payment demanded.

Currently, if a payment is contested, taxpayers are obliged to hand the money over until the matter has been resolved. It is refunded if the finding is in their favour.

The taxman already had an agreement with employers, whereby a portion of a person's salary was withheld and paid over every month.

However, to recoup money it felt it was owed, Sars could appoint an agent such as the client's bank, which was obliged to transfer the required amount over.

This effectively gave banks the task of becoming tax collectors.

It also seemed that banks were not obliged to contact clients to inform them of the instruction that they would do this, said Andhee.

She believed taxpayers needed to receive proof from Sars that the money was owed to avoid falling prey to scamsters, and that taking money out of a bank account should be a "last resort" action.

"There should be some sort of procedure which should be available to the public."

Sars spokespersons said they would consult Sars' legal adviser, and would provide details on how the money would be recovered later.



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