Take care when choosing a tax practitioner

Laura du Preez | 02 August 2022

Laura du Preez has been writing about personal finance topics for more than 20 years, including eight years as personal finance editor for two leading media houses. 

Covid has accelerated the trend to tax practitioner’s offering tax return filing services online.

The benefit is the convenience of sorting out your tax return without physically going to see a practitioner and the service may be cheaper.

It does also mean you need to be more cautious about ensuring your tax practitioner is legitimate.

Working with a practitioner via email, phone or even a virtual consultation makes you more vulnerable to fraud, unless you know what to look for and your practitioner has the right systems in place.

Don’t use an unregistered practitioner

Tax practitioners are obliged to be registered as practitioners in terms of the Tax Administration Act.

A number of organisations representing accountants, auditors, tax practitioners and other professionals have been appointed as controlling bodies to ensure that practitioners meet certain criteria before registering them as practitioners.  Read more: Who can help me with tax advice?

Siphithi Sibeko, head of communications and media at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), says a person can only be registered as a tax practitioner if he or she meets the minimum qualification requirements. In addition, a tax practitioner must:

  • Have a certain amount of work experience in the tax industry;
  • Be tax compliant;
  • Be free of any involvement in a serious tax offence, and conviction of theft, fraud, forgery, or uttering a forged document, perjury or any offence involving dishonesty.

Each controlling body has a code of conduct that registered tax practitioners must abide by, and the organisation must ensure registered practitioners keep abreast of changes of tax legislations, the SARS systems and processes, Sibeko says.

Once a practitioner is registered with a controlling body, the body must submit the information to SARS and the practitioner must be issued with a tax practitioner number.

Stiaan Klue, the executive dean at The Tax Faculty, says you can verify that the tax practitioner is registered by querying their practitioner number on the SARS website: https://secure.sarsefiling.co.za/TaxPractitionerQuery.aspx

In addition, consumers are advised to get references or recommendations from other taxpayers, he says.

No support for unregistered help

If you use someone who is not registered as a tax practitioner to complete your return, they may not have the required technical and moral competency and will not be bound by any code of conduct, Sibeko says.

You are fully accountable for your tax matters and you cannot complain if you receive incorrect advice from an unregistered person, he says.

Klue says an unregistered person is not allowed to represent you to SARS if things go wrong.

Family members who you trust and who have knowledge of tax can help you, but they are not allowed to charge a fee for the tax service, and they cannot be held accountable for any errors of negligence, he says.

Beware of fraud

Marius Higgs, CEO and founder of TaxAssist, says SARS’s efforts to ensure tax practitioners are registered before they can submit a return has eliminated a lot of bad practices.

Fraud can still happen, however, if you give an unregistered person your eFiling login details in order to complete your return, he says. Although SARS has made changing banking details more difficult, you could even be defrauded of a refund this way, Higgs says.

A registered practitioner should not use your eFiling log in details – they must load you on their profile and you must use a one-time pin to transfer your profile to them.

You should then have a shared profile so that you can still log on and see that the practitioner has filed your return for you, Higgs says.

Practitioners who offer an online service should offer you a secure portal onto which you can upload documents, such as your IRP5 and your tax certificates, he says.

New requirements

SARS recently amended the minimum criteria for persons to register as tax practitioners.

In addition to minimum academic and experience requirements, tax compliance, and clean criminal record, SARS also now requires that registered tax practitioners undertake the SARS Readiness Programme.

This programme provides vital information on the obligations and responsibilities of tax practitioners, and the SARS processes that tax practitioners need to follow to provide high-quality, professional, and ethical services to you.

The changes introduced by SARS demonstrate that SARS is committed to ensuring all tax practitioners are accountable for dealing with taxpayers' returns to ensure correctness, fairness, and responsibility, Klue says.

Doing it yourself

If your tax affairs are simple, you can also file your own return. SARS has increased its self-help services enormously over the past few years.

If you get stuck while doing your own tax return, you can make use of the online Help-you-efile service. A consultant will call you back and share your screen while you are logged on to eFiling, in order to help you complete the return. The consultant is unable to see certain information such as your password and banking details.

Use this service early, before the last-minute rush to file close to the deadline for eFiling returns on Monday October 24. Provisional taxpayers have a later deadline of Monday January 23 next year.