Payment of tax during an objection regulated
In determining whether a taxpayer should be granted a suspension of payment SARS must adhere to the rules of administrative justice
IN JANUARY the Government Gazette contained a notice determining the date on which sections 13(1) and 38(1) of the Taxation Law Second Amendment Act, 2009 will come into operation. Government Notice number 50, contained in Government Gazette 33977, provided that 1 February 2011 shall be the date on which sections 13(1) and 38(1) of the Taxation Law Second Amendment Act, 2009 shall come into effect.
In order to ascertain the import of the abovementioned Government Gazette it is necessary to refer to the provisions of section 13(1) of the Taxation Law Second Amendment Act, 2009. Section 13(1) of the said statute substitutes the existing provisions contained in section 88 of the Income Tax Act of 1962.
The Government Gazette provides that the rules contained in the new version of section 88, which will be dealt with below, will come into operation on February 1. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) placed the Government Gazette’s notice on its website when it was issued and subsequently issued a media release setting out the consequences of the notice and how SARS will deal with the new rules.
The old version of section 88 of the act regulated the payment of tax pending an appeal. It did not deal with when a taxpayer had lodged an objection and SARS had not made a decision on that objection. Section 88 of the act now regulates the payment of tax pending an objection or appeal lodged by a taxpayer.
It must be remembered that the Constitutional Court in Metcash Trading Limited vs the Commissioner: SARS 2001 (1) SA 1109 (C) held that the provisions of section 36 of the Value-Added Tax Act of 1991 (the VAT Act) which requires a taxpayer to “pay now, argue later” was constitutionally valid. Section 88 of the act is identical to section 36 of the VAT Act.
The Commissioner has the power to postpone the payment of tax pending the finalisation of an appeal. The old section 88 did not specify the criteria that SARS should take into account to determine whether a taxpayer should be granted a postponement of payment of tax pending finalisation of an appeal. The Constitutional Court held in Metcash that any decision made by the Commissioner on a taxpayer’s request is subject to the rules of administrative justice, as a decision made under section 88 constitutes administrative action as envisaged in the constitution.
The new provisions of section 88 now deal with the powers of SARS to recover tax even though the taxpayer’s objection or appeal has not been finalised.
Section 88 makes it clear that a taxpayer is entitled to request that SARS suspends the payment of any tax or a portion thereof due under an assessment when the liability to pay that tax is disputed by lodging an objection or appeal.
Section 88(3) of the act now provides that the Commissioner may suspend the payment of the tax in dispute by having regard to the following criteria:
The compliance history of the taxpayer; The amount of tax involved; The risk of dissipation of assets by the taxpayer concerned during the period of suspension;
Whether the taxpayer is able to provide adequate security for the payment of the amount involved;
Whether payment of the amount involved would result in irreparable financial hardship to the taxpayer;
Whether sequestration or liquidation proceedings are imminent;
Whether fraud is involved in the origin of the dispute; and
Whether the taxpayer has failed to furnish any information requested by the Commissioner under the act for a decision under section 88.
When a taxpayer receives an additional assessment or an assessment that does not agree with the tax return submitted by them to SARS they have the right to lodge an objection to that assessment. At the time that the objection is formulated the taxpayer should decide whether to pay the tax and know that if they succeed with their objection or appeal they will receive the tax paid by them together with interest. However, when a taxpayer chooses not to pay the tax they will need to apply for the postponement of payment under section 88, and in the event that their objection does not succeed they will be liable for interest from the second date of the assessment issued to them.
Taxpayers need to be aware of the requirements contained in section 88(3) and should submit a formal application by way of a letter requesting postponement of payment pending finalisation of an objection or appeal, and show that each of the criteria mentioned above have been complied with.
Section 88(4) provides that SARS may refuse a request for postponement or may revoke a decision to suspend payment when SARS is satisfied that:
The objection or appeal is frivolous or vexatious;
The taxpayer employs dilatory tactics in the objection or appeal;
On further consideration of the factors contemplated in section 88(3), the suspension should not have been given; or
There is a material change in any of the factors described in section 88(3) upon which a decision to suspend the amount was based.
When a taxpayer succeeds with an objection and has paid the tax that was reflected on the additional assessment he will receive the tax back from SARS together with interest thereon. Previously section 88 only required interest to be paid when the assessment was reduced pursuant to an appeal being allowed or conceded. The new section is more equitable than the old rules.
It must be noted that section 36 of the VAT Act has been amended along the lines referred to above and should a taxpayer request a postponement of payment for a dispute under the act the same criteria referred to above will need to be adhered to under the provisions of section 36 of the VAT Act.
When a taxpayer receives an additional assessment a decision must be made whether to lodge an objection against that assessment and, if so, a decision must be made whether to pay the tax due or alternatively to seek postponement of payment under section 88 or in the case of a VAT matter under section 36 of the VAT Act. It must be noted that when SARS refuses a taxpayer’s request to postpone payment subject to objection or appeal the taxpayer may not object or appeal against that decision under the provisions of the act. The taxpayer would be required to pursue the matter in the high court on the basis that SARS has not complied with its obligations under the Promotion of the Administrative Justice Act of 2000. SARS, in determining whether a taxpayer should be granted a suspension of payment, must adhere to the rules of administrative justice and where it fails to do so a taxpayer should succeed in having the decision reviewed by the high court.
Dr Beric Croome is a tax executive at ENS.