The Office of the Tax Ombud (OTO) has officially been launched by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, on 7 April 2014. The OTO, intended to address the concerns of taxpayers aggrieved by the conduct of South African Revenue Service (SARS) officials, will be headed by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who has been appointed for a three-year term in terms of the Tax Administration Act, 2011. Judge Ngoepe previously served as Judge President of the High Court, for the North and South Gauteng divisions, and has been responsible for the appointment of judges to the Tax Court.

The mandate of the OTO is to address taxpayers' complaints about service, procedural or administrative matters. The OTO may not review legislation or tax policy, matters that are subject to objection or appeal (except insofar as the complaint relates to the administrative aspects of the objection or appeal) or matters that are before the tax court.

This new office affords corporate taxpayers, amongst others, a useful opportunity to raise complaints and to help to expedite solutions to potentially frustrating administrative and service-related obstacles in their dealings with SARS.

As tax administration becomes increasingly automated with less opportunity to interact directly with SARS officials, this new mechanism will likely prove very useful by reducing the time and cost of resolving disputes with SARS. An important consideration is that before taxpayers may approach the OTO, all other available remedies available from SARS must first be exhausted. Most complaints about SARS' administration or process should be submitted to the SARS Service Monitoring Office (SSMO). Complaints addressed by this office include disputes about delays in the processing of tax returns, the decision-making and correction of administrative mistakes, failure by SARS to make certain decisions, and failure to respond to taxpayers or to provide reasons for decisions that have been made.

The OTO's most promising task is its role in identifying and reviewing systemic concerns related to SARS' services. It also has a role in identifying potentially negative implications for taxpayers caused by the application of administrative provisions in the Tax Act. This would help to ensure improved service from SARS. 

The OTO follows successful models in Canada and the United Kingdom. This office is equipped with personnel seconded from SARS and it already has an established and accessible website that guides prospective complainants through the process.

Complaints need to be completed according to a prescribed form, the OTO 01, which is available here. This form is easy to use and prepopulates according to your selections. The form provides space in which taxpayers can substantiate their complaints and in which they can suggest a desired solution. Complaints to the OTO can be sent via email tocomplaints@taxombud.gov.za or can be faxed to 012 452 5013.