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South Africans still prefer to file their taxes the old fashioned way, says a SARS official.

More South Africans need to make use of online tools such as eFiling to submit their tax returns, says a SA Revenue Service (SARS) official.

Mark Kingon, SARS group executive for operational service and support, speaking at the Ernst & Young Africa Tax Conference yesterday, said the tax body cannot afford to serve millions of people through the branches. It's a very expensive exercise, he stated.

Over the past few years, SARS has modernised its systems and payment processes to address account maintenance challenges, which it says lie at the heart of the debt and credit books.

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Although SARS' latest stats reveal more than 50% of tax returns were done via eFiling, Kingon says the revenue service still faces a dilemma of people queuing at the branches, taking four or five hours.

"We need to get people out of our branches."

Kingon adds: "At the opening of our tax filing season I walked around looking at people playing on their smartphones and I asked them why they are not doing this [tax returns] on eFiling; why are they not using electronic tools."

Assumptions

ICT veteran Adrian Schofield says eFiling is beneficial because it means quick resolution of the annual return, all done from the convenience of being at home or in the office, but the assumption is that all taxpayers have online facilities at their disposal.

"We tend to assume that everyone has access these days."

Schofield adds: "I would not be happy to complete my eFiling using a smartphone − the forms are not easy to read on a small screen, as they are still based on an A4 paper format."

Educate taxpayers

According to Kingon, SARS may need to better educate people about the benefits of using electronic devices and the lower risks associated with their use.

"We need to determine if there is greater trust in one of our agents helping as opposed to interfacing directly on an electronic device," he says.

Schofield agrees, saying SARS should provide employers with "how to" guides they can distribute to employees when eFiling opens each year.

"I am not sure that the terminology is the issue but perhaps SARS could use instant messaging apps to communicate with the lower income taxpayers and have them answer a series of on-screen questions rather than filling in or reviewing a form.

"If the taxpayer only has to confirm their personal details and state there are no reasons for reviewing their tax liability, more would accept they do not need to visit SARS," says Schofield.